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Thousands of MTA employees don't use time clocks designed to prevent fraud, report says

Pamella Daley, Director for Asset Management managing computer

Pamella Daley, Director for Asset Management managing computer assets hardware and software for the Long Island Rail Road, demonstrates a biometric time clock. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Thousands of Metropolitan Transit Authority employees are still not using a new employee timekeeping system installed two years ago as part of a reform effort to reign in overtime spending and prevent fraud, according to an MTA inspector general report released Thursday.

The installation of the Kronos biometric time clock system, with the goal of verifying employee time and attendance, was part of 19 recommendations made to reform the agency's overtime spending, which reached $1.1 billion in 2020. Overall, 14 of the 19 recommendations have been implemented, the report said.

"The Kronos time clocks were installed almost two years ago, swiping in and out on the clock should be routine across most of the MTA’s agencies by now," said MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny in a news release Thursday. "So why is management still letting some employees skip this simple, yet critical part of their workday? The longer it takes for the MTA to wean itself off of its reliance on archaic 'honor systems' to monitor overtime spending, the longer rider and taxpayer dollars will be exposed to potential abuse."

The MTA had planned to have all its employees using the time clock system by January 2020, but failed to do so and was then further delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the MTA shares the inspector general's "ongoing focus on overtime reform."

"The MTA has and continues to aggressively reduce overtime and implement new controls to substantially increase oversight and accountability, resulting in a nearly quarter of a billion dollar decrease from 2018 to 2020 and the implementation of a five-year plan to cut overtime costs by nearly $1 billion," Donovan said. "We are developing an app to make timekeeping easier and more attractive by making it available via employees’ phones and tablets, and working with our labor partners to enhance usage."

Some 1,600 employees don't have access to a time clock or have assignments in places lacking access to a swipe machine, the report said. Another 3,240 LIRR and NYC Transit train crews are not required to record their attendance due to union agreements.

The inspector general report noted that just 16% of field employees in the LIRR's engineering department, despite being required to swipe at the beginning and end of their shifts, either swipe only one or not at all.

The engineering department has been identified in previous audits as having "time and attendance practices that rely on employees' honesty to properly report their work time without adequate controls in place," the report said.

"LIRR Engineering will continue to be at high risk for time abuse until the agency establishes robust, permanent timekeeping controls, such as Kronos Mobile and Kronos time clocks, instead of paper labor sheets (i.e., timesheets) that employees complete by hand," the report said. "Time and attendance practices that rely on employees’ honesty to properly report their work time without adequate controls in place. As a result, employees’ abuse of time has frequently occurred without timely detection."

Donovan, the MTA spokesman, noted that 96% of LIRR Engineering Department employees are swiping in to record their work attendance -- 85% swiping twice and 11% swiping once.

And Donovan said the agency uses vehicle GPS systems to record time for LIRR engineering employees who don't have access to time clocks at their work sites.

In February, a federal grand jury indicted six MTA workers — including five from the LIRR — on charges of fraud and conspiracy for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars in unearned overtime pay.

The nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy released a report in April that found four of the MTA’s top five overtime earners in 2020 worked for the Long Island Rail Road and more than tripled their income with six-figure extra earnings. The MTA $1.1 billion in overtime in 2020 was a decrease from the $238 million spent in 2018, the report said.

The report also found that while overtime continued falling from record high levels in 2018, more than 400 employees made in excess of $100,000 in extra pay — and nearly 700 of them more than doubled their regular wages.

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