DC’s employment agency violated its own policy in paying overtime

D.C.’s Department of Employment Services violated its own overtime policy by paying employees for OT that wasn’t authorized, according to a report from the Office of the D.C. Auditor.

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson investigated a whistleblower’s allegation of potential waste, fraud and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You will recall the unemployment insurance program was one of the most severely impacted by the pandemic, with so many people out of work,” said Patterson. “So, what we were looking at was an agency under stress, at a very stressful time.

The pandemic caused a large influx of unemployment claims, which required employees within DOES Office of Unemployment Compensation to work overtime.

Patterson said the audit found the office’s overtime costs increased from $115,991 in fiscal year 2019 to $1.98 million in fiscal year 2021.

The auditor’s report did not find fraud.

“What we found was not all the overtime had the appropriate prior authorization, and some of it didn’t have documentation,” said Patterson. “So, even though someone might have worked that overtime (because it was necessary to complete the agency’s work) it wasn’t documented.”

Patterson said much of the agency’s system was paper based. One recommendation was that DOES use the electronic overtime request and approval system built into the PeopleSoft software that the District uses for its personnel time-management system.

“So, I can put in a request for overtime, and you can see it on your desk — maybe you’re working at home that day — you can see it and approve it electronically,” said Patterson.

Patterson said DOES has agreed with the audit’s conclusions and recommendations.

“I do want to emphasize this was a very rough period of time for the agency, and they do have some corrective actions in place … and the recommendations that we make, they’re essentially working on them, already.”

In written comments provided to the auditor, DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes cited the “unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic,” and said the agency “has worked diligently to address all concerns raised as a result of the pandemic.”

She said the agency is now performing monthly checks of overtime to identify trends and has recently updated its overtime policy to require employees submitting overtime claims also provide documentation to validate the work and hours they performed.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo and Jack Moore contributed to this report. 

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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