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Legislative committee orders audit of troubled LADWP billing system

Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeAccounting and AuditingConsumersElaine HowleRicardo Lara

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will undergo a state audit of its troubled computer billing system after a committee of state lawmakers voted Wednesday to examine what went wrong.

The state audit, proposed last month by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), will scrutinize the rollout, costs and fallout of the system that sent erroneous and inflated bills to some customers.

It will assess what it cost the city to address problems after the system went into effect, how the contract was awarded and the share of customers getting late or inaccurate bills, among other issues. Bocanegra said such information would provide "a roadmap" to prevent such problems from happening again.

State Auditor Elaine Howle estimated it would take more than 2,400 hours to complete the audit -– roughly six months -- at a cost of more than $260,700 plus travel and other possible expenses.

At the Wednesday meeting of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Randy Howard, DWP interim executive director of customer service, said the department was actively working to fix the problems under the leadership of new general manager Marcie Edwards.

To ease lengthy waits for help on the phone, dozens of additional customer service representatives have been hired to take calls. Frustrated customers can also go online for assistance.

Howard said the problems impact roughly 4% of DWP customers. “It is our expectation that within three months we will be back on track,” he told the committee.

To gauge those efforts, the state audit will not begin until June: State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said the audit should be timed to see not only what had happened in the past, but if reforms introduced under Edwards are working. Bocanegra said waiting to start the audit was “reasonable and responsible.”

“This isn’t a game of gotcha,” the assemblyman said.

Labor groups spoke in support of the audit at the Wednesday meeting. “We think it’s critically important to do whatever we need to get the information necessary to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again in the future,” said Mitch Seaman of the California Labor Federation.

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