02/01/2013 03:45 pm ET

Muni Payroll Audit Finds Huge Flaws In Transit Agency's Ability To Manage Costs

Some San Francisco Muni drivers received multiple paid birthdays off last year. Which would appear to suggest something fishy when compared to the average human rate of having birthdays.

At least, that's what alleged in an audit report released Thursday by the San Francisco Controller's Office. The study slammed the city's Municipal Transportation Agency for lacking effective controls to manage overtime for its employees.

The audit, conducted at the request of SFMTA officials, focused on the agency's implementation of its Trapeze timekeeping system, finding a number of significant holes and shoddy record-keeping in the way employee work hours are being tracked.

"We always expect that there are going to be some lapses in internal controls due to limited limited resources and having to do more with less," said Audit Director Tonia Lediju. "We found that a single person was in charge of the entire one was behind the programmer to double check what was going on."

The report noted that transit dispatchers never verified unscheduled employee overtime, which accounts for about ten percent of the department's total overtime and typically comes as a result of a driver running behind schedule on his or her route. Such lack of oversight leads to a situation in which errors and abuse could easily be missed.

Unverified, unscheduled overtime was estimated to cost the cash-strapped agency $2.6 million last year.

The audit also noted that five employees received paid time off for their birthdays more than once in the past year, due to the system to lacking a mechanism to limit the number of birthdays to one per year. As part of the agency's contract with its operators, if a driver works on his or her birthday, he or she is automatically credited for eight additional hours.

The report listed 25 recommendations for the agency to improve its payroll system, such as establishing pay codes to identify specific scheduled and unscheduled events, developing a new system to verify employee overtime hours and ensuring employees only have one birthday per year.

"We appreciate the Controller's attention and concur with a number of the recommendations," said SFMTA Spokesman Pual Rose. "There's always room for improvement."

Rose did note that the agency quibbled with two of the report's recommendations, out of concerns that implementation may degrade the efficiency of the overall system.

Over the past fiscal year, the agency paid its operators over $25 million in overtime -- about 17 percent of the total payment doled out by the agency.

Concerns about worker overtime eating into Muni's operating budget have grown in recent years, as reports have circulated that the agency accrues far more overtime than any other part of the city government.

Of the 25 city employees who earned the highest amount of overtime last year, 22 worked for Muni. The single employee with the most overtime ran the agency's signal shop and essentially doubled his base salary by working nearly 2,000 hours of overtime in a twelve-month period.

The agency has already taken a number of steps to address overtime in in recent years, such as hiring more drivers and expanding the use of part-time drivers during peak hours. The agency credits these moves as the reason behind its 20 percent decrease in overtime during the past year.

This report comes at time when the agency is running a structural operating deficit of $100 million per year and an overall $420 million backlog in deferred maintenance. In order to have the system's fleet of buses, trollies, cable cars and light rail vehicles operate in a "good" state of repair, Muni managers estimate they would need an extra $260 million in revenue per year.

"We've been so negligent as a city in terms of our lack of investment in Muni that the system doesn't have the capacity to meet our existing needs," Supervisor Scott Wiener told the Huffington Post in a recent interview.