Metro said Friday it has fired a track supervisor for collecting overtime pay for periods when he was not working, a dismissal that results from what appears to be a major new investigation of overtime fraud at the transit system.
Other supervisors were also under administrative review for possible overtime abuse after the agency’s new inspector general found that some track managers had earned more than double their base salaries in overtime for several years, according to a Metro statement.
The action drew praise from Metro board members and area politicians who expressed hope it would save money and improve Metro’s reputation as an agency that holds its staff accountable.
“It’s to send a message to our employees that you can’t do this, you can’t . . . game the system and collude with other people,” Metro Chairman Jack Evans said.
Metro did not identify the fired supervisor and released little information about the case, but there were signs the inquiry may be far-reaching.
Both Metro’s administrative reviews and the investigation by Inspector General Geoff Cherrington were continuing.
General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said Metro was adopting changes in business controls recommended by the inspector general to prevent future overtime fraud.
“It is disturbing and disappointing that any employee would misuse overtime,” Wiedefeld said. “The supervisor in this matter has been dismissed effective immediately. . . . We have a code of ethics that prohibits abuse of employment here for private gain.”
The manager’s dismissal came after suspicions were raised by an IG analysis of overall overtime earnings at Metro.
The study “found that certain track managers earned more than double their base salary in overtime, a pattern that was recurring over several years prior to the SafeTrack initiative,” said a five-paragraph Metro statement announcing the dismissal. SafeTrack, an accelerated repair and rehabilitation project, began in June 2016.
Track supervisors’ base salaries range from a minimum of $59,091 to a maximum of $88,637, a Metro spokesman said. The midpoint is $73,864.
Cherrington confirmed the investigation was underway but declined to comment further. He took office in April, pledging to intensify investigations of corruption and raise the profile of the inspector general’s office.
His predecessor, Helen Lew, had come under criticism during her 10 years in the position for a perceived failure to be proactive in hunting down wrongdoing and for directing attention at issues some considered too low-priority.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said he wants Metro to pursue criminal charges in the case if appropriate, though he acknowledged he was not familiar with details of the termination.
“These are tax dollars we’re talking about here,” Connolly said. “In the federal government, if you were caught falsifying a time sheet, you would be prosecuted for that.”
The overtime case is the second IG inquiry to become public this month. In the other, the inspector general is looking into complaints alleging racial and sexual harassment by a top MetroAccess official.
Evans and Wiedefeld praised Cherrington for helping Metro to police itself.
“The IG and Paul [Wiedefeld] are really scouring the employees’ overtime,” Evans said. Among other things, he said, that will help Metro hold down costs as its begins this fall to prepare its budget for the next fiscal year.
“Metro spends a lot on overtime,” Evans said. “We want to be in a position in September, October, when we put the budget together, where Paul can say, ‘There is no other place we can go to get money.’ ”
Metro budgeted $77 million for overtime pay in its budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s 8.6 percent of total salaries and wages.
Board member Michael Goldman, who chairs the board’s Finance Committee, said there’s been progress on reducing excessive overtime.
“My impression is that overtime abuse was a big issue with the track inspection group but as a general matter, Paul [Wiedefeld] and [Chief Financial Officer] Dennis [Anosike] have brought excessive overtime under control,” Goldman said.
Friday’s firing is the latest in several punitive measures taken against employees who administrators believe have committed wrongdoing. Earlier this year, Wiedefeld fired one-third of Metro’s track inspection department because, he said, they were found to be falsifying inspection reports.
And in February, Metro instituted a new policy on extended leave, aimed at cracking down on “excessive” worker absenteeism and saving costs on health care and pensions.
Connolly said such steps were a sign of improvements made under Wiedefeld. He said the practice of falsifying documents — whether they are forged overtime sheets or the alleged fraudulent track inspection sheets reported earlier this year — is an endemic problem at Metro. Fixing those problems, he said, is a key to garnering more support for Metro from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Falsifying documents — it’s more evidence of a culture of complacency and mediocrity that has been allowed to set in,” Connolly said. “Credibility is really important, and one of the problems with Metro is that the workforce problem has to be tackled. It’s not just a problem of nuts and bolts.”