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MBTA Employee With Most Overtime Approved His Own Extra Pay, Audit Finds

The track maintenance employee who racked up 2,600 overtime hours in less than a year "regularly approved his own overtime reporting form" and retired Jan. 31, according to ongoing MBTA audits.

The audits undertaken by KPMG and an internal auditor found no evidence of fraud, though Jim Logan, the T's internal auditor, said he had found "a little bit of abuse of overtime here and there — not anything illegal."

The top five overtime earners at the roughly 6,500-employee transportation authority were all employed in engineering and maintenance — power and maintenance of way, according to the soon-to-be-completed KPMG audit.

"The process does not allow people to approve their own overtime, but one of the things the audit is looking at is the extent to which the process is being followed," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters after the audit updates were presented at a meeting of MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday. She said the audits indicated "some people were using forms that had a pre-printed supervisor's name on it, which makes it difficult to ascertain whether there was an actual approval by that supervisor of that particular piece of work."

John Englander, the general counsel for the MBTA who presented KPMG's findings, said overtime policies "vary from division to division," and the auditors found "substandard documentation" and instances where employees were "approving their own overtime documents."

Englander said the highest earners were senior employees, and the highest overtime earner of all, who worked on track maintenance, retired Jan. 31 "entirely of his own volition."

Established last year to right metro Boston's transit system following widespread failures during brutal snow and cold, the control board has dug into overtime, which is tied into employee absenteeism and is down 28 percent as of Jan. 1 compared to the same period last year, according to one of the ongoing audits.

The internal audit stated that as of Jan. 1 engineering and maintenance management made "a number of interim changes and corrective actions to improve controls, to more effectively monitor usage, and to reduce overtime."

In December MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve reported that an employee had earned $315,000 so far in 2015, in part through his 2,600 hours of overtime. Englander confirmed that was the same employee who retired at the end of January.

Craig Hughes, the secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 264, and Jim O'Brien, president of the Boston Carmen's Union, both said their employees are unable to sign off on their own overtime.

Hughes said there are biometric hand-scanners "for everything" to determine whether someone showed up at work. Throughout the rest of the system, the hand scanners are unavailable in some places, Englander said.

"From a machinist's perspective, you don't write yourself in or authorize yourself for anything," Hughes told the News Service.

"My employees don't hire themselves for overtime," O'Brien told reporters. He said, "Different supervisors do different things."

MBTA officials have previously pointed to overtime as an impediment to encouraging employees to join the ranks of management — where the prospect of longer hours at a higher pay rate is unavailable.

The T is also staffing up on the operations side, hiring more than 90 bus drivers recently, and O'Brien said he would prefer more workers to more overtime opportunities for his members.

"There are a lot of vacancies at the MBTA, and either you fill the vacancies and that takes care of the overtime or you don't fill the vacancies and you pay overtime. It's one or the other," O'Brien said. He said, "I'd rather have more employees, absolutely."

More highlights from Monday's control board meeting:

  • The control board will deliberate on proposed fare increases at its next meeting, on Feb. 29, ahead of a planned vote March 7.
  • The T expects to come in $75 million under budget by the end of fiscal 2016 in June and plans to invest the savings into capital spending and substantially reducing the projected fiscal 2017 deficit, which has been estimated at $242 million.
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