The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico announced that the Puerto Rico Education Department made at least $80 million in payments over 13 years to employees who had resigned, are retired, are deceased, on vacation, or otherwise not working because the agency “lacks an automated system that ensures only employees who are working get paid.”
The Oversight Board became aware of the payments as part of its efforts to ensure fiscal responsibility and monitor implementation of the Certified Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico. It has informed law enforcement agencies of this issue, agency Executive Director Natalie Jaresko said.
The Oversight Board learned that for over a decade and over several government administrations, Education “failed to remove former employees and properly account for vacation and sick leave from the payroll on a timely basis as a result of manual and undocumented processes.”
The Oversight Board reviewed Education Department data that showed that the agency identified annual overpayments of about $6.7 million on average between 2007 and 2020 to more than 17,000 different employees who should not have received payments.
According to the Education Department, it is making efforts to collect those overpayments but has only been able to recover about 15% per year.
“The statements made by the Oversight Board regarding the alleged improper payment to Department of Education employees respond tothe data that the agency exchanges with the Board as part of the joint efforts that both entities have been working on for months,” Education Secretary Eligio Hernández-Pérez said.
“The Education Department has been in full collaboration in the provision of information requirements,” he said.
Since 2017, the agency put a stop to direct deposit payments to employees who were not punching in, to ensure that attendance was recorded in the digital attendance system the agency bought for that purpose. He said the agency continues to take steps to recover the money that has been improperly disbursed.
However, those who don’t punch in get paid regardless because the attendance system is not connected to the agency’s payroll, Jaresko said.
“No employee who left the government or isn’t working should be paid by the government,” she said.
“The only way to ensure that the tax dollars of Puerto Ricans are used to pay those public servants who actually work for the government is to link time and attendance records to payroll. The system exists, and the system works in the public and private sectors. The government needs to make it work,” she said.
“These payments represent serious mismanagement by the Education Department for what appears to be more than a decade. This same problem, this same manual approach to time, attendance, and payroll exists across government and improvements must be made,” Jaresko said.
The Oversight Board said the agency and the government must:
- Immediately begin the process of implementation of mandatory automated time and attendance linked to PRDE payroll;
- Immediately begin a process of validation of the personnel roster and all who have access to the automated system;
- Allow the Oversight Board to validate Education Department data with forensic accounting to mitigate any further overpayments;
- Immediately plan and begin to implement automated time and attendance systems linked to payroll government wide to prevent such overpayments at other departments and agencies; and,
- Immediately begin a serious collection effort of overpayments and encourage all who have received unearned income to return it.