SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A Caltrans manager based in San Diego was appointed to a more senior position in Sacramento but never moved, and instead charged the state to travel back and forth for more than a year.
The information came out in the State Auditor Whistleblower report. It reviewed more than 800 cases, including 116 cases involving allegations of waste or improper payments from July 1, 2018-December 31, 2018.
Of those 116 cases, the agency conducted preliminary investigative work on 62 of them. Of those, investigators obtained sufficient evidence in 33 cases, allowing them to launch thorough investigations.
One of the cases involved a Caltrans manager who traveled from her home in San Diego to her job in Sacramento. From 2002 until early 2016 the manager was headquartered in San Diego. In February 2016 she was appointed to a more senior management position headquartered in Sacramento. Initially, the appointment was for a limited-term position, but that position became permanent in September 2016. The manager never moved to Sacramento. Instead, she regularly traveled to Sacramento to attend to her duties, including managing staff, giving presentations, and attending meetings.
Starting in February 2016, the manager submitted expense claims for her travel, including airfare, rental cars, and out-of-pocket expenses, to her former supervisor, who then approved the claims without notifying the division chief. Caltrans’ travel branch also approved the reimbursement and “did not identify these unusual travel trends for more than a year.” The accounting division questioned the expenses in summer 2017 and told the manager and her former supervisor to discontinue the practice immediately. The manager then essentially stopped traveling to Sacramento and conducted the majority of her business in San Diego until she retired in March 2018.
State law prohibits payments of any expenses related to her travel to her Sacramento headquarters. Caltrans does allow employees to submit expense claims for travel required as part of their job, including airline, rail, and car rental expenses. Caltrans pays vendors directly once management approves an employees travel. Caltrans also reimburses out-of-pocket expenses, including meals, lodging, and other costs. However, those costs can only be submitted when they’re incurred 50 miles or more away from their headquarters.
From February 2016 until her retirement in March 2018, Caltrans paid $41,695 for her travel to her office in Sacramento.
- $29,648- Airfare and Rental Car
- $6,461- Meals and Incidentals
- $3,198- Vehicle Mileage
- $1,745- Other Transportation Costs
- $643- Lodging
A number of recommendations were outlined, including attempting to collect the money from the manager:
- Within 30 days, provide a detailed training memorandum to managers and supervisors informing them of who is authorized to approve employees’ travel expense claims and airline, train, and rental car reservations.
- Within 60 days, provide detailed and comprehensive instructions to managers and supervisors to ensure that they understand the definition of an employee’s headquarters and the state law prohibition of paying expenses related to travel from one’s residence to headquarters.
- Within 60 days, document the findings of this investigation in the manager’s official personnel file.
- Within 60 days, consult with the State Controller’s Office to determine whether the manager’s reimbursements should have been reported as taxable fringe benefits and, if so, amend any relevant tax documents.
- Within 90 days, provide training to human resources staff to ensure that they follow proper procedures for changing an employee’s headquarters and retaining the appropriate documentation.
- Within 90 days, provide training to travel branch staff to ensure that they verify an employee’s headquarters when reviewing expense claims and comply with state law when approving the claims.
- Within 90 days, take appropriate corrective action against the former supervisor for approving the manager’s travel to Sacramento without notifying the division chief.
- Within 90 days, determine if any of the $41,695 can be collected from the manager and, if so, attempt collection of the improper travel reimbursements.