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Comptroller says Metro-North must tighten controls

ALBANY – An audit of the Metro-North Railroad found the agency failed to properly manage overtime paid by federal stimulus funds, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced Monday.

He said there is “significant room for improvement” on how the railroad monitors its employee work. Among the abuses noted were allowing some conductors to charge overtime for tasks such as washing up for work.

“They will need to tighten up their operations and this audit just showed another indication where there hasn’t been a kind of management systems put in place that there should be,” DiNapoli said.

The Metro-North audit examined whether $72.3 million in stimulus funds were used efficiently and for authorized purposes at four locations from April 30, 2009 through June 30, 2012. Audits examined whether employees were paid for only time they worked, whether overtime was pre-approved and justified and whether the reasons for some of the overtime were sound.

The auditors found that one of the timekeeping systems in place at Metro-North, crew management system, did not have a requirement for conductors to sign out manually, so there was not an accurate record of when conductors actually left the facility.

In a review of the 10 highest overtime earners who worked a total of 183 hours of overtime over 54 instances during the third quarter ended September 30, 2010, there were no overtime requests to support pre-approval and justification of 136 hours of overtime.

Auditors also questions whether government funds were wasted by paying conductors two hours and 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.

DiNapoli’s office recommended that Metro-North require conductors to electronically sign in and out; monitor time and attendance records; establish agency-wide policies and procedures that govern the use, pre-approval and justification for overtime; monitor conductors to make sure they are on sire and working at their assigned posts; and ensure that the most efficient practices are being followed.

A statement from the MTA late in the day Monday said the agency agrees with DiNapoli 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,” railroad officials said. “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.”