Posts Tagged ‘state employees’

State Employee Contracting Controversy Addressed With Administrative Changes

By Sean Whaley | 3:37 pm October 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Ten months after a legislative audit first raised serious questions about current and former state employees working as contractors for state agencies, the Board of Examiners earlier this week approved administrative changes to prevent future abuses.

The changes approved Tuesday bring closure to the issue of “double dipping”, but not before it spawned legislation and a serious examination of the state employee contracting process.

The audit, released in December 2010, identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a current state employee earned $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

The Board of Examiners is composed of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

In addition to the administrative changes, Masto’s office was asked by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee to review the information for potential criminal violations.

Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said today the requested review was completed on June 10 but no action was taken against any current or former employees referenced in the audit.

“The case was declined due to insufficient evidence primarily related to the fact, as pointed out in the legislative audit, that no positive controls were in effect to document or record the time state contractors were actually engaged in their state duties,” she said.

The new rules added to the State Administrative Manual implement the changes mandated by Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The new rules prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval is required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts can only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

Smith said she is pleased with the voted by the board.

“I think we’ll see a lot better accountability and reporting on the use of consultants because of this,” she said. “I’m glad. It may be the type of thing that we need to keep sort of tweaking each session until we have it where we need it to be, but so far, so good.”

“I think we demonstrated it was the right thing to do,” Smith said.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who serves as chairwoman of the Audit Subcommittee, said she was pleased that the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously. They are overdue, she said.

“There were a few instances that either were very sloppy record keeping or might have been more suitable for prosecution, so I hope somebody is following up on those,” Leslie said.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

“If citizens are going to have confidence in government, they need to be assured that everyone is playing by the same rules,” she said. “The audit raised a lot of red flags about whether there were state employees who were getting sweetheart contracts.”

The administrative changes approved Tuesday will go a long way to correcting any such abuses, Leslie said.

The administrative changes come as yet another state employee contracting controversy involving a new member of Sandoval’s cabinet was recently reported in the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper reported Sept. 29 that Frank Woodbeck, the newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, held down two state jobs last fiscal year, earning almost as much as the governor.

Woodbeck told the newspaper he worked 60- to 70-hour weeks to fulfill the demands of the two jobs.

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Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the law may need tweaking, but she is pleased with the changes:

101311Smith :10 far, so good.”

State Sen. Sheila Leslie says she is pleased the Sandoval administration took the audit recommendations seriously:

101311Leslie1 :20 the same rules.”

Leslie says the audit raised red flags about whether there were state employees getting sweetheart contracts:

101311Leslie2 :26 the Audit Subcommittee.”

Leslie says there were a few instances that may have risen to the level of prosecution:

101311Leslie3 :11 up on those.”

Audit Revealing “Double Dipping” Employees Spurs Legislation

By Andrew Doughman | 6:19 pm March 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Speaker Pro Tempore Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, wants better reporting on state contracts with consultants.

She said an audit last December proved that lax reporting requirements had allowed many consultants to profit from taxpayers as they escaped legislative scrutiny.

She asked the auditing staff how she could improve oversight of consultants. They recommended removing references to consultants in favor of defining “contract” broadly. So that is what Smith wrote into her bill.

“People figure out loopholes and somebody abuses them, and that’s bad for everybody,” Smith said.

Salaries earned by current and former state employees working as contractors for state agencies, a practice called “double dipping,” was the subject of a critical Legislative Counsel Bureau audit released late last year. The audit identified 51 current and former state employees working at 14 different agencies as contractors doing work similar to their duties as state employees during the audit period of fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

A Nevada News Bureau inquiry probed into allegations that one of those employees was earning $350 per hour.

Smith’s bill would cover most contracts with state agencies.

The bill, however, exempts contracts related to school districts, Medicaid and the Public Employees Benefits Program from her bill.

Smith said that the Medicaid and Public Employees Benefits Program contracts pass through other oversight that the Legislature need not take up.

“It will involve every contract that needs to be considered,” she said.

A Board of Examiners comprising some of the state’s constitutional officers vet those larger contracts.

Smith highlighted her bill at a press conference earlier this afternoon. She joined several other Democratic legislators who also paraded bills they are championing before members of the press this afternoon.

The bill has bipartisanship sponsorship.

Audio Clip

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith talking about how her bill increases accountability:

030811Smith:15 our state well

State Employees Protest Lack Of Discussion On Tax Increases To Help Balance Budget

By Andrew Doughman | 5:26 pm February 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – About 50 state employees gathered in front of the Legislative Building today to call on Gov. Brian Sandoval to participate in a discussion about potential tax increases to help fund the state budget.

With the wind blowing at a steady clip, Vishnu Subramaniam, AFSCME Local 4041, chief of staff, said: “This is a great analogy of what’s going on in the state. They’re trying to blow us away while we’re providing services.

“We need a broad-based corporate tax,” he said. “We need to be having a talk about revenues. The talk of cuts is a red herring.”

Subramaniam said by not having a revenue debate, the state budget under review in the 2011 legislative session is focused on only one side of the equation: budget reductions.

Sandoval has rejected any proposals to increase taxes or fees to help balance the budget. He has submitted a $5.8 billion general fund budget that he says does not include any new tax or fee increases.

John Kinney, a custodial maintenance worker at Western Nevada College, held a sign that said: “Sloppy thinking equals quick fixes! Gov: you can do better!”

“I’d like them to take away the 5 percent cut and give us our furloughs back,” he said. “We’re getting cut more than anyone else. We’ve had furloughs for the last three years.

“I rented out my house because it was almost foreclosed on,” Kinney said. “If I wouldn’t have rented it out, I would’ve lost it.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, spoke to the assembled group, saying the cuts proposed in Sandoval’s budget need to be given a human face to show how they affect nurses, social workers and the community as a whole.

Tough cuts are needed but, “we can’t dismantle Nevada,” he said. “We need to put Nevadan’s back to work.”

Asked to comment on the gathering, Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the 5 percent pay cut being proposed for state workers is only slightly larger than the 4.6 percent reduction in place now. While state employees are also getting unpaid days off in exchange for the reductions, a practice that would be eliminated in Sandoval’s proposed budget, state government is a service industry and the needs of the public have to be considered, he said.

Erquiaga also noted that Sandoval is seeking the same 5 percent cut for public school teachers and university faculty as part of his “shared sacrifice,” although it will be up to school district boards and the Board of Regents to decide whether to implement such reductions.

“You can’t ask state employees to carry it all and have university faculty take none,” he said. “I think the state employees would agree with that.”

Erquiaga said there is no reason the Legislature can’t have a discussion of new taxes or revenues, but that lawmakers should do so early on in the session and in a public forum so the public can participate.

Not in the last hour of the session in the dead of night, he added.

Sandoval would not be opposed to a discussion with lawmakers about putting a tax increase before the voters, Erquiaga said. It would depend on the details: what type of tax increase, who would vote, and how long it would last,” he said.

“He has never said he would prohibit the public from voting on taxes,” Erquiaga said.

Capital Bureau Chief Sean Whaley contributed to this report.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says state government is a customer service industry:

021411Erquiaga1 :09 for them first.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval is seeking the same 5 percent salary cut for teachers and university faculty:

021411Erquiaga2 :07 agree with that.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will not change his position against new taxes or fees:

021411Erquiaga3 :17 they don’t know.”

Nevada State Agency Posts Contract Information Following Release Of Audit

By Sean Whaley | 11:31 am January 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – In the wake of a legislative audit critical of state agency contracting practices with current and former employees, the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has posted its information online.

Bob Conrad, public information officer for the department, said the contract information was placed on the agency’s website on Dec. 29.

The audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a former state worker is now earning $350 an hour as a contractor versus $65 an hour in his state job. This contract is still in effect and has been extended through June 30, 2011. As of September this year, the contractor has earned $472,493 from the state.

The audit information was turned over to the Nevada Attorney General for review for any potential abuses.

The Conservation and Natural Resources Department lists six current and former employees with contracts on its website, including one individual earning $150 an hour and another earning $200 an hour. An explanation for the need for each contract is included. All of the contracts have been approved by the Nevada Board of Examiners, made up of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

The agency’s website says the contracts fulfill specific needs that cannot be met by existing staffing levels or with current staff expertise. None of the contracts use the state general fund as a revenue source. The agency’s website also links to the actual contracts.

Conrad said the $350 an hour contract cited in the audit does not involve his agency. The information was posted to provide transparency to the public, he said.

“Our contracts are probably saving money for the state,” Conrad said. “We’re not using general funds and we think we have a good story to tell.”

The most significant contracts are for:

-          Christine Thiel, a former deputy state engineer with the Division of Water Resources who retired in 2004, is earning $150 an hour as a negotiator for the Truckee River Operating Agreement in northern Nevada. She earned $12,712 in fiscal year 2008 and $15,150 in fiscal year 2009.

-          Roland Westergard, a former state engineer with the Division of Water Resources who retired in 1990. He too is employed as a negotiator for the Truckee River Operating Agreement. He initially earned $150 an hour but saw an increase to $200 an hour starting in September 2009. He earned $19,233 in 2008 and $28,928 in 2009.

The legislative audit discussed Dec. 8 identified 14 state agencies contracting with 51 current or former employees who were performing similar duties to their current or former job descriptions at a total cost of $2.3 million in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. Two such contracts were identified for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Andrew Clinger, director of the Department of Administration, acknowledged the audit raised concerns about the use of the contracting process by state agencies. He is working with a group of administrators and others to bring forward reforms to the process to the Board of Examiners by February.

Nevada Officials Moving Quickly To Address Concerns With State Employee Contracting

By Sean Whaley | 5:39 pm December 14th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Secretary of State Ross Miller said today an audit released last week examining current and former state employees winning contracts with state agencies contained “alarming findings.”

Miller asked for a response from Department of Administration Director Andrew Clinger on how the findings are going to be addressed. He made his comments at the Board of Examiners meeting, which is the panel that approves contracts entered into by the state. The board is made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

Miller said he wants to make sure the issues raised in the audit, including some contracts with current and former state employees that appear to involve excessively high rates of pay, are adequately addressed.

Clinger said a working group is being assembled to review current policies and procedures and will meet for the first time tomorrow. Representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the state Purchasing Division, the executive branch Internal Audit Division and others, will meet to develop recommendations to curb any further abuses, he said.

Clinger said he would like to bring some changes to the Board of Examiners by February for its approval, “to help prevent these sorts of violations from happening in the future.”

After the meeting, Clinger said the contracts are reviewed either by his agency or other state agencies that contract directly for the work, but there are no rules in place to deal with the issues raised in the Legislative Counsel Bureau audit reviewed by lawmakers.

A lot of the employees are hired under employment contracts approved by the Board of Examiners, he said. Once these “master service” agreements are approved by the board, the agencies can then contract with people individually and so the details of the employment agreements with current or former state employees do not come back to the board for review, Clinger said.

Clinger said he believes that the issue of excessive hours and pay identified in the audit involves a very small number of current and former state employees, but said he was disappointed by the findings.

“I was disappointed from the standpoint of given where we’re at with the budget crisis, and given where we’re at with public perception, I think it hurts our credibility going into session,” he said.

There may be justification for some of the rates of pay identified in the audit, but Clinger said at first look, the $350 an hour being paid to one former employee seems excessive.

The audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day and another where a former state worker is now earning $350 an hour as a contractor versus $65 an hour in his state job.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

At least eight examples were identified where state employees working as contractors either did the contract work during regular state work hours or could not provide documentation to show they did the work on their own time.

The Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee voted to turn the audit over to Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto for a review of possible criminal violations.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

Audio clips:

Secretary of State Ross Miller says state agencies must correct issues found in audit:

121410Miller :12 the cracks again.”

Administration Director Andrew Clinger says he is working to put safeguards in place:

121410Clinger1 :15 deal with those.”

Clinger says the audit has hurt the state’s credibility going into the 2011 legislative session:

121410Clinger2 :13 going into session.”

Sandoval Offers Budget Plan for Nevada

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:05 pm January 13th, 2010

LAS VEGAS — Gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval today announced his plan to address the state’s current budget shortfall.

Sandoval’s plan proposes temporary 4% salary reductions for all state employees including K-12 education personnel, state health plan modifications, privatizing selected state services and targeted budget cuts.  Sandoval’s plan aims to realize a savings of between $200 and $500 million.

Sandoval’s plan for the Public Employee Benefits Program (PEBS) would implement the four proposed SAGE Commission recommended 2009 PEBS reforms which are:

1) Immediately change employer contribution to 75% from 95%,

2) Eliminate subsidy for Medicare retirees beginning July 1, 2010,

3) Eliminate the entire subsidy for anyone who retires after July 1, 2010,

4) Reduce subsidy for non-Medicare retirees by 25% on July 1, 2010, and by 25% more on July 1, 2011

The proposal for privatization of selected state services would occur through a public bidding process.  Sandoval’s plan assumes an average savings of 10 percent for services including prison medical services, building and grounds maintenance, the state motor pool, mail services, and the state personnel and purchasing departments.

In addition, Sandoval’s proposal would divert $110 million from the Clark County School District portion of the state class size reduction program to the state general fund.  The temporary diversion would be offset by seeking statutory changes necessary to allow, on a temporary basis, the district to utilize its capital account reserves for operating expenses, salaries and program integrity.

“All Nevadans are facing tough times and our state budget is experiencing unprecedented deficits,” Sandoval said. “Revenues are down significantly, caseloads are up, and tough decisions will have to be made to keep our state solvent.”

“I understand the impact of these proposed salary and benefit reductions on our state employees, but I believe these reductions are a better alternative than mass layoffs, tax increases, or deficit spending,” he said.

“Make no mistake, there is a difficult road ahead and none of the choices to address this problem are easy or painless,” Sandoval said.

“Given the importance of this issue, I have studied the problem for months, enlisted the best and brightest minds in our state to aid me, and offer this plan as means to help our current leaders in their efforts to shore up our ailing state budget,” he said.

View or download a PDF of Sandoval’s plan here.

Gibbons Seeks Input from State Employees on Ways to Balance Budget

By Sean Whaley | 5:30 pm December 15th, 2009
CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons today asked state employees to weigh in on ways to balance the budget after sending a memo to top agency officials seeking even tougher budget cutting scenarios than those outlined earlier this month.

In the email to state employees, one question posed to state workers by Gibbons reads: “I have pledged to not raise taxes. Should Nevada impose a fee on raw municipal waste to promote recycling, create green jobs and renewable energy, and make Nevada less attractive to those states proposing to send us their waste?”

Gibbons also asks for comment on several other ideas:

  • Are there any budgets that should not be considered for reduction? Why?
  • If we must reduce personnel costs, how should that be done? A percentage pay decrease? Layoffs? More furlough days?
  • Utah has tried a 4/10 work week with good results. Should we consider the same?
  • Are there any state services that should be discontinued or privatized? Why?
  • Is there something we should spend more money on because it would make or save money?
  • What is the biggest waste of money that you see too often?
  • Would you support eliminating full day kindergarten or increasing class sizes to save money?
  • An employed person generates more total state revenue than does the payroll tax collected on each employee. Should we eliminate payroll taxes on new hires to stimulate employment?

In his email, Gibbons said: “We are faced with making some tough decisions very soon. As my co-workers and the people on the ‘front line’ for maintaining essential services, I value your opinions regarding how the state should handle our financial situation.”

The email was sent after state Budget Director Andrew Clinger sent a memo earlier today asking state agencies to, “determine proposed budget reserves in the amount of 6 percent, 8 percent and 10 percent for FY 2010 and FY 2011 and submit them to the Budget Office by the close of business on Tuesday, January 5, 2010.”

Gibbons has already asked for budget cutting scenarios of 1.4 percent and 3 percent from his agency chiefs. Those plans are due today and are being sought because general fund tax revenues so far this year are $53 million below estimates.

In addition, the state Medicaid budget is expected to see a deficit of $55 million by the end of the two-year budget on June 30, 2011, due to unexpected caseload growth.