Dozens of District government employees more than doubled their base salaries and hundreds of other employees increased their take-home pay by more than half of their base salaries by working overtime in fiscal year 2017, according to a new report by the D.C. Auditor.
Released on Tuesday, the report finds that in the fiscal year that ran from October 2016 to September 2017, 41 D.C. government employees “worked so much overtime that they received additional pay that surpassed their base salaries” and another 380 received at least 50 percent of their base salaries in overtime. The report also finds that the amount of overtime pay the District disburses more than doubled from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2017, from $40.5 million to $108.2 million.
Many of the employees who received these high levels of overtime pay worked in public safety jobs, per the auditor’s report. In fiscal year 2017 the Metropolitan Police Department registered the most overtime pay of any District agency at $32.2 million, followed by the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department at $20.9 million, and the Department of Corrections at $15.3 million. Along with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, these agencies accounted for about two-thirds of the total $108.2 million that D.C. spent on overtime pay last fiscal year.
D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson says that while overtime “is a necessary tool for every government, and especially for public safety agencies,” the District could benefit from less of it. “This report’s recommendations for stronger management, more specific regulatory guidance, and improvements in policies, practices, and internal controls, like conducting staffing needs assessments and making permanent hires where possible, would help minimize the use of overtime and save District taxpayer dollars,” she says in a statement released with the report.
The report relies on data from individual D.C. agencies, including the Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s Office of Pay and Retirement Services and the Department of Human Resources. The auditor’s office also reviewed labor agreements where applicable, budget documents, staffing assessments, contracts, and email correspondence.
It finds that “insufficient permanent staffing” was common at the agencies that relied on a lot of overtime. Last fiscal year, the Department of Corrections spent more than double its approved overtime budget, in part because of a significant increase in its inmate population, from about 1,600 in 2015 to about 2,100 in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works spent $1.1 million above its approved overtime budget last fiscal year, mostly to ticket and tow vehicles parked on the DC Streetcar route on H Street and Benning Road NE. “DPW does not have dedicated funding or [full-time positions] associated with providing these services,” the report says. “As a result, all parking enforcement for the DC streetcar is paid through overtime to DPW employees whose normal job involves other work.”
At the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, “unauthorized staff absences” caused the agency to pay overtime to staffers who were able to do the work, the auditor’s office finds. “In [fiscal year] 2015, DYRS reported a total of 2,787 hours (equivalent to 348 eight-hour shifts) involving staff members who were [absent without leave] or [absent without pay],” the report explains. “In FY 2016, this number increased to 3,034 hours—an amount equivalent to 379 eight-hour shifts, or more than one shift per day, on average.”
Patterson’s office notes that across agencies, a paid family leave benefit for District government employees that went into effect in fiscal year 2015 likely strained personnel and amplified agencies’ use of overtime. Some agencies had to use an unusual amount of overtime for “specific operational needs,” like when the police and fire/EMS departments staffed the presidential inauguration and the Women’s March in 2017. Other agencies’ increases in overtime pay partly resulted from new union contracts, according to the report.
But “while some agencies experienced decreases in total overtime spending, these decreases are the exception, not the rule,” Patterson’s office says. “Overall, the general trend has been significant growth in spending.”