Thursday, August 11, 2011

City Auditor Slams Long Beach Port Dive Team

City of Long Beach Auditor Laura Doud on Tuesday issued a review slamming the Port of Long Beach dive team for "unjustified overtime" as well as rebuking port management for a lack of "effective oversight."

The review of the dive team, and the conclusion that the port security management has been lax in its oversight, comes at an auspicious time for city officials. For many months, City Hall has been discussing plans to absorb the port's security division, and the millions of dollars in federal and state security grants that flow to it, into the city police department.

The port dive team, a subset of the port's security division, is one of the nation's few port authority-run dive teams dedicated to underwater security in a major commercial port. The team, which has grown from two to ten members since being formed in 2007, is charged with conducting underwater inspections of port facilities, assisting in locating and removing navigational hazards, anti-terrorism work and coordination with other law-enforcement agencies.

The dive team is fully funded by the port, which does not use city or taxpayer money. The port, managed by the city's semi-autonomous Harbor Department, generates revenues mainly from the lease of port facilities and wharf/dock fees.

Doud, the city's chief accountant, said that the review was initially focused on the port's security division as a whole due to "a high level of overtime." However, when Doud's office found that the majority of the security division overtime was attributable to the division's landside patrol operations, "we focused our review on the Harbor Dive Team operations due to the identification of significant control issues surrounding the oversight of Dive Team personnel."

Despite the findings of the review, and the characterization of "unjustified overtime" by Doud, no wrong doing beyond inaccurate documentation was alleged in the review and no dive team member has been asked to reimburse any overtime pay.

For the review, Doud's office studied eight weeks of individual dive team member pay records from various weekly periods in March, April, September, October and November, 2010, as well as cumulative annual team wage and overtime expenses for 2007 through 2010. The review does not indicate why the specific eight weeks in 2010 were selected for analysis, if the eight weeks selected were representative of other weeks in the year, or list details of other dive team pay periods.

The review found that in 2010 the port paid out $104,591 in overtime to the dive team out of total wages for the team of $525,367, or 19.9 percent of the team's total wages for the year.

By comparison, the city police department overtime costs in 2010 represented 7.7 percent of the department's total wages and the city fire department's overtime costs in 2010 represented 20.9 percent of total wages paid.

The 19-page dive team review, which includes a seven-page response from port officials, further states that port security division supervisors were unable to account for how the ten port security officers on the dive team "spent a majority of their time--including overtime--due to inadequate documentation and oversight."

Doud identifies these supervisors as the port Director of Security (who retired in early May), the Chief Port Security Officer, and the Dive Team Supervisor.

Also leading to "substantially higher overtime pay," said the audit, were flawed scheduling techniques, particularly where dive team members were soley dedicated to dive work and removed from regular landside patrol service for which the dive team members were appropriately trained.

In addition, the audit said that port security division supervisors failed to create or implement "a formal training plan to account for" the dive team members' time spent in training and that security supervisors failed to "ensure that divers received the appropriate type of training."

In the port response, port executive director Richard Steinke said that due to the review, the port security division "has already commenced a process improvement program for the Dive Team in the areas of overtime, training, and procedures."

This program, according to Steinke, includes revision of the security division timekeeping and overtime approval process, requiring dive team members to submit daily activity logs to supervisors, reviews of dive team scheduling methods, and the increased use of dive team members for landside port patrol duties.

Steinke added that the port will deliver an updated version of this process improvement program to Doud's office within six months.

This is the second review conducted by Doud's office of port operations since last year. In July, 2010, Doud conducted a review of the port's processes regarding an annual transfer of port funds to the city. The review led to a city council-sponsored ballot initiative that voters approved in November, 2010. Known as Measure D, the initiative changed the city charter to give City Hall greater access to port funds.

The Measure D changes will result in more than $100 million in port funds being shifted to City Hall control by the end of fiscal year 2012.