Separate audits by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli of the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road found they failed to properly manage overtime paid by federal stimulus funds.
The two commuter rail lines, owned and operated New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, permitted abuses such as allowing some conductors to charge overtime for tasks such as washing up for work, the audits found.
The MTA, with roughly $33 billion in debt, is one of the largest issuers in the municipal marketplace.
"There's significant room for improvement in how Metro-North and LIRR monitor the hours their employees work," DiNapoli said. "Federal money came to New York state to help improve our transportation network and we must be good stewards of those funds. The MTA should take a harder look at wasteful spending and work to tighten up its operations."
The Metro-North audit examined whether $72.3 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were used efficiently and for authorized purposes on four projects from April 30, 2009 through June 30, 2012. They involved $30.4 million for two separate projects at Grand Central Terminal, $37.3 million for the Tarrytown station and $4.6 million for the Poughkeepsie station, the latter two on the Hudson line.
DiNapoli's auditors found that one of the timekeeping systems in place at Metro North, Crew Management System, had no requirement for conductors to sign out manually and records of when conductors actually left the facility were inaccurate. In a review of the 10 highest overtime earners who worked a combined 183 hours of overtime, involving more than 54 instances during the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2010, there were no overtime requests to support pre-approval and justification of 136 hours of overtime.
Auditors also questioned whether government funds were wasted by paying conductors two hours, 40 minutes of overtime every day for tasks such as changing clothes, traveling to and from project sites and washing up for work. In addition, an unannounced floor check at the Tarrytown Station found a conductor not at his station when a passenger train came through.
The LIRR audit reviewed $102.8 million on two ARRA projects during the same time. The projects were the second phase of the Atlantic Avenue viaduct project in Brooklyn ($77.3 million) and the construction of a high-tech train wash in Babylon ($25.5 million). The viaduct carries LIRR customers between Jamaica and downtown Brooklyn.
Auditors found that the LIRR poorly managed the funds and as a result, employees might have been paid for unnecessary overtime or unworked time.
Auditors also said no pre-approval was given for the 110 instances of overtime totaling 998 hours in September 2010. For certain employees, LIRR lacked a system verify time or attendance, DiNapoli said.
A review of three sampled track workers also found excessive overtime. For example, on Sept. 12, 2010, a track foreman claimed 24 consecutive overtime hours, an assistant track supervisor claimed 20.5 consecutive overtime hours while another track foreman claimed 18.5 consecutive hours on the same day. This was repeated two weeks later with 22.5, 18 and 19.5 hours of overtime claimed by the same employees. LIRR officials noted the overtime was consistent with provisions of existing collective bargaining agreements.
"The ARRA projects reviewed by the state comptroller's office were completed on time and under budget, and earned several prestigious awards from independent trade entities including the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Council of Engineering Companies," said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. "The Atlantic Avenue viaduct project was named by the White House as one of the '100 Recovery Act Projects Changing America.'
"The MTA agrees with the state comptroller that employees should be paid only for hours they work. The auditors did not identify any specific instances of employees being paid overtime for work they did not perform," Donovan added. "The LIRR's planned expansion of biometric time clocks later this year will provide an additional level of oversight, and Metro-North has made changes to strengthen controls over safety flagging operations, including by developing a software tool which will track and record all aspects of flag jobs."