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YouTube videos ‘all day long’: Employee misconduct cost California $427,000, audit finds

One state employee watched hundreds of YouTube videos featuring recreational vehicles, crime scene footage and political or religious commentary while on the clock.

Another staffer billed the state for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses as she commuted from San Diego to work in Sacramento over the course of about two years.

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The incidents were among several included in a twice-yearly report from the California state auditor’s office that highlights a variety of employee misconduct and waste throughout state government, such as using official vehicles for personal transportation and billing the government for inappropriate expenses.

“Our investigations found wasteful and improper travel payments, improper promotion and hiring practices, and misuse of state resources,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom. “In total, we identified about $427,000 in inappropriate expenditures.”

Investigators last year began looking into an allegation that a longtime administrator in the education program at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla had been using his work computer to watch YouTube videos “every day, all day long, five days per week” for years while he was on the job, according to the audit.

The employee’s internet activity showed he accessed at least 2,256 YouTube videos over the course of 10 months in 2017 and 2018. The report states that “on one particularly egregious day” the administrator accessed 55 videos during working hours.

“When we shared the administrator’s internet activity with his supervisor, she agreed that the evidence confirmed the poor work output she witnessed from the administrator,” the report states. “Further, she stated that she could not remember a week when he had worked the expected 40 hours.”

The employee retired before the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could take disciplinary action against him, according to the audit. The agency does not believe he was aware of the investigation when he decided to retire.

A graphic provided by the California state auditor's office shows a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employee's YouTube viewing habits.
A graphic provided by the California state auditor's office shows a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employee's YouTube viewing habits. (California state auditor's office)

In another case, investigators found the California Department of Transportation improperly paid $41,695 for expenses a manager incurred while she commuted from her home in San Diego to Sacramento. The employee previously was headquartered in San Diego but was promoted in 2016 to a more senior position in Sacramento.

Instead of moving to Northern California, the audit contends she commuted across the state and sought reimbursement for the expenses. The state pays for employees’ airline, train and car travel by paying vendors directly and reimburses employees when they spend money on meals and lodging more than 50 miles from their headquarters.

“Evidence indicates the manager should have known that her headquarters was Sacramento and that she was not entitled to the travel reimbursements,” the audit states.

The employee circumvented rules to fund her long-distance commute. She submitted her expenses to her former supervisor in San Diego, who approved them, even after she started reporting to a division chief in Sacramento, according to the audit.

“This circumvention, mismanagement, and misconduct led to violations of state law and a substantial waste of state funds,” the audit states.

Between February 2016 and December 2017, the woman was reimbursed $29,648 in airfare and rental car costs, $6,461 for meals, $3,198 for vehicle mileage, $1,745 for other transportation costs and $643 for lodging, according to the audit.

The employee retired last year. The report suggested Caltrans document the auditors’ findings in the manager’s personnel file, investigate whether the payments should have been taxed as fringe benefits and ramp up training on appropriate travel expenses.

Other findings by auditors include:

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  • A Department of Business Oversight manager provided an employee interview questions for a position the person was vying for before the interview. She was selected for the job but was demoted after the auditors’ investigation.

  • A manager misused a state vehicle for his personal commute, resulting in nearly 42,000 commute miles and an estimated cost to the state of $22,500. At least five other supervisors or managers routinely misused state vehicles for commuting purposes, which cost the state an estimated $58,000.

  • The California Department of Fish and Wildlife improperly appointed two senior management employees to positions as branch chiefs.

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