The Office of the Inspector General, the agency that investigates fraud, waste and abuse in city government such as the bribery schemes at the Quarantine Road landfill, says it processed 65% more cases last year than in the previous year.
Agent workload has increased from 29 cases per investigative work year to 51 cases. (An investigative work year is 225 days of the time of one agent.)
As a result, the amount of work handled by investigators is “at an unhealthy level,” it said in its recently released annual report.
“Many of the cases the OIG investigates are complex matters involving multiple interviews,” the report stated.
“If the case is of a criminal nature and prosecution is pursued, these cases can frequently take more than a year to complete.”
Part of that increase is due to two long-term OIG staff vacancies, which were recently filled.
But another “significant driver” behind the high caseloads is the agency’s focus on disability and pension fraud at the Police and Fire departments, nicknamed “uniform fraud.”
The OIG saved the city more than $2 million on uniform pension fraud in the last year alone, according to the report.
From Mayor: Praise but Modest Funding
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has publicly lauded the agency and increased its budget over the last few years – but not dramatically so considering the scope of its work and the fact that a larger staff would likely more than pay for itself.
About one third of OIG’s funding comes from transfers from other city agencies.
OIG’s budget this year is $741,280, supplemented by $328,468 in end-of-year transfers from the Fire, Police, Public Works and Transportation departments.
The agency acknowledged that the filling of the two vacancies will improve its workload going forward, if the number of cases remains “level” through 2016-2017.
But that seemed unlikely, as the agency has targeted time-consuming uniform fraud.
More than 40 such cases are currently underway, the report said, with only one agent assigned to investigate them.
(OIG said it plans to hire a temporary paralegal in fall 2015 to help and to seek an additional agent in its budget request next year.)
The majority of uniform fraud cases were not filed this year.
OIG Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. told The Brew that most of the suspected fraudulent worker’s comp cases involved “serial filers” who make claims over a number of years.
“Frequently, it’s the same injury that keeps reoccurring. Eventually, they focus on filing for permanent disability as a result of their injuries, either real or faked,” he said.
The OIG has a staff of nine, including two executives, two managers and five investigative agents, only two of which are actually funded through the OIG budget.
The other three agents’ positions are funded by the agencies they are assigned to investigate: one agent for DPW, one for DOT and one jointly for Police and Fire.
The departments have signed a memorandum of understanding with the OIG, a practice that started in 2012 when the OIG first entered into an agreement with DPW.
The fruit of such partnerships includes several noteworthy cases, most recently the Quarantine Road Landfill case, a multi-year cooperative effort that resulted in 11 indictments.
A similar partnership was initiated with DOT in 2013.
Not surprisingly, those two departments had the most cases logged with the OIG for FY 2015 – 33 and 29 respectively, followed by the Fire Department (23), Police (21), Health Department (18) and Department of Finance (15).
Other departments, including the Convention Center, Environmental Control Board, Municipal Telephone Exchange, Sheriff’s Office and the Liquor License Board, had 15 cases between them on file with the OIG.
While the agency’s budget has increased over the past few years, staffing issues, the report says, are the most significant challenge to the office’s ability to advance its efforts.
In part because of a vacancy in a managerial position, OIG failed to meet its target of identifying a minimum of $1.5 million in waste found during its assessments of city agencies and procedures.
(It identified only $380,497 in waste discovered during reactive investigations, most notably $250,000 in DOT property theft.)
“During FY 2015, the evaluations side was largely inactive,” the report stated, while mentioning that a number of evaluations have been revived since the position was filled.
Pearre, when asked what is being done to address “unhealthy” workload at OIG, did not address budget increases or additional funding.
Instead, he wrote in an email: “We try to invest our efforts in those areas where I feel we have the greatest chance of making an impact.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s spokesman Howard Libit did not respond to questions about whether the mayor planned to increase the OIG’s budget.
Going forward, Pearre said the agency plans to expand the MOU concept to acquire additional funding from other departments that may benefit from its “focused oversight efforts.”
The report also noted that OIG, in spite of being short-staffed, exceeded its “savings and recoveries” target by over 500% last year, which represented a 140% return on investment for the city.