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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
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OKAY, DOES THIS HURT?

We have seen so many scathing audits over the years with so many distressing conclusions that it is tempting to shrug at the disclosures in the newest report: this one on V.I. Health Department overtime.
But this audit goes beyond distressing to disgraceful.
The question is, will the blatant financial abuses it outlines galvanize our lethargic bureaucracy – and our apathetic public – into action, or will we briefly bemoan the findings and return to business as usual?
If the past is any example, the latter will hold true. But hope springs eternal, and we – like many others – hope against hope that this time will be different.
Among the V.I. inspector general's more devastating findings:
* The Health Department shells out more than $1 million a year in overtime payments – this when our government is broke and our debt is mounting.
* In 1997 and 1998 four supervisors were paid a whopping $212,000 for claimed overtime work. Auditors found substantial documentation for two of the supervisors in the maintenance division. However, they found virtually no records for the other two – the director of financial services (who earned a $60,000 base salary plus $50,348 in OT in 1997 and $38,017 in OT in '98) and the payroll supervisor (who pulled in $26,348 in overtime in '97 and $22,947 in '98 on top of a base salary of $30,321).
* Payroll personnel in Health incorrectly computed overtime – calculating it at double time rather than time and a half – for four supervisors, resulting in overpayments totaling $102,000.
* Overtime is not approved in advance – or, apparently, verified before checks are cut.
Clearly the Health Department has a special problem here, one that has prompted the inspector general to beef up the Government Fraud and Corruption Task Force by adding a prosecutor and investigators. That is encouraging.
But if the same practices are taking place in other government offices and agencies, as the auditors believe, the implications are frightening.
V.I. government officials have several challenges. They must prosecute any outright fraud. They must seek reimbursement of any improperly calculated overtime payments. And they must train mid- and top-level managers throughout government – particularly those who deal regularly with payroll – about wage-and-hour issues.
Private businesses in the territory often hold training sessions for their managers about V.I. employment laws and sound financial management practices. It would be very easy to set up a similar series of sessions for all government supervisors, right up to Cabinet heads.
A common problem in all V.I. government agencies is the lack of education and training about what our wage-and-hour laws require and how to manage limited resources effectively. That is relatively easy to remedy, if the will to do it is there. It will be a lot harder to recoup what was misspent.

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We have seen so many scathing audits over the years with so many distressing conclusions that it is tempting to shrug at the disclosures in the newest report: this one on V.I. Health Department overtime.
But this audit goes beyond distressing to disgraceful.
The question is, will the blatant financial abuses it outlines galvanize our lethargic bureaucracy - and our apathetic public - into action, or will we briefly bemoan the findings and return to business as usual?
If the past is any example, the latter will hold true. But hope springs eternal, and we - like many others - hope against hope that this time will be different.
Among the V.I. inspector general's more devastating findings:
* The Health Department shells out more than $1 million a year in overtime payments - this when our government is broke and our debt is mounting.
* In 1997 and 1998 four supervisors were paid a whopping $212,000 for claimed overtime work. Auditors found substantial documentation for two of the supervisors in the maintenance division. However, they found virtually no records for the other two - the director of financial services (who earned a $60,000 base salary plus $50,348 in OT in 1997 and $38,017 in OT in '98) and the payroll supervisor (who pulled in $26,348 in overtime in '97 and $22,947 in '98 on top of a base salary of $30,321).
* Payroll personnel in Health incorrectly computed overtime - calculating it at double time rather than time and a half - for four supervisors, resulting in overpayments totaling $102,000.
* Overtime is not approved in advance - or, apparently, verified before checks are cut.
Clearly the Health Department has a special problem here, one that has prompted the inspector general to beef up the Government Fraud and Corruption Task Force by adding a prosecutor and investigators. That is encouraging.
But if the same practices are taking place in other government offices and agencies, as the auditors believe, the implications are frightening.
V.I. government officials have several challenges. They must prosecute any outright fraud. They must seek reimbursement of any improperly calculated overtime payments. And they must train mid- and top-level managers throughout government - particularly those who deal regularly with payroll - about wage-and-hour issues.
Private businesses in the territory often hold training sessions for their managers about V.I. employment laws and sound financial management practices. It would be very easy to set up a similar series of sessions for all government supervisors, right up to Cabinet heads.
A common problem in all V.I. government agencies is the lack of education and training about what our wage-and-hour laws require and how to manage limited resources effectively. That is relatively easy to remedy, if the will to do it is there. It will be a lot harder to recoup what was misspent.