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Bob McPhail 8:30 a.m., Aug. 17
Audit reports are often the only way for the citizenry to find out about the foibles of their government. But the green eye shade types typically bury their gloomy findings deep inside voluminous reports loaded with legalese and accounting jargon, thereby keeping both the electorate and the diminishing ranks of local reporters safely at bay.
2012 was a particularly good year for bad news in San Diego audits, though much of it was not widely disseminated. Herewith the highlights of the best of the worst news:
The nation's postal workers were unhappy with an audit released in June by the U.S. Postal Service's office of Inspector General, which spent months spying on San Diego mail carriers as they went about their daily rounds.
"We observed multiple instances of carriers not using satchels to deliver mail, thereby making multiple trips to and from their vehicles for more mail, incurring additional street time," auditors wrote. "We also observed some carriers not 'fingering' mail between deliveries to place mail pieces in the delivery order to avoid backtracking."
The auditors "determined the San Diego District could use at least 6 minutes less street time per day on each carrier route, or about 83,900 work hours annually."
Observed one of many subsequent angry commenters: "Wow, six whole minutes in the 6+ hour street time. I am sure any worker in America wastes six minutes at least in the course of a day. This is while the Postal Service pays people to do nothing but watch other people work."
A September audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation's office of Inspector General found that a program to monitor safety of long haul Mexican trucking in the United States was badly out of kilter.
"At this point, no statistically reliable projections or estimates can be made on important safety characteristics, such as the number of crashes that could be expected from long–haul Mexico-domiciled carriers," the document said.
Auditors also found that U.S officials "did not comply with new English language proficiency requirements for testing Mexican truck drivers on traffic and road signs during two of three" safety inspections they observed.
In addition, federal "quality assurance personnel approved [inspection] results for two of three Mexico–domiciled carriers before verifying that required driver’s license testing had been completed, and made errors in determining whether one potential carrier complied with Federal drug and alcohol testing regulations."
The auditors say they found that "Mexico–domiciled drivers may not recognize all critical road signs. For example, drivers who did not pass the road sign test were often unable to explain the meaning of 'Railroad Crossing' and 'Wrong Way' signs in either language."
Then there was an April audit by the Inspector General of the United States Environmental Protection Agency that revealed radiation monitors in San Diego were broken during Japan's Fukushima meltdown.
"On March 11, 2011, at the time of the Japan nuclear incident, 25 of the 124 installed RadNet monitors, or 20 percent, were out of service for an average of 130 days," auditors said.
San Diego's monitoring device was one of 11 said to be out of service for more than 140 days, according to the findings. The San Diego outage began on October 26, 2010, and apparently went unnoticed for four months, until February 23, when a contractor was notified. Repairs were not completed on the device until March 20, more than a week after the Fukushima disaster began, auditors found.
A messy, potentially highly costly radiation cleanup issue was identified in a federal audit of "remediation" on the Torrey Pines campus of General Atomics, where super secret nuclear research was conducted during the 1950s and 60s.
A reactor built during that era has yet to be removed, and the entire decontamination bill, which could be sizable, will be paid by taxpayers.
"The long-range schedule for decommissioning and details as to how the process should proceed depend primarily on the extent of soil contamination surrounding the biological shield/pool of the Mark F reactor," auditors for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported.
"The extent of soil contamination will impact the methods of building demolition and soil excavation. "Characterization of the soil will require coring through the sides and floor of the Mark F Pool.
In November, San Diego city auditor Eduardo Luna slammed the administration of outgoing mayor Jerry Sanders for ignoring burgeoning city maintenance problems, including those at police, fire, and lifeguard stations.
The "Facilities Division does not have an accurate list of the facilities that need to be maintained. While Facilities does maintain this list, there are known errors, double-counted facilities, and inaccurate information," the auditors said.
"Both Police and Fire-Rescue assert that their internal crews are not sufficient to conduct all maintenance and repairs, and the lack of Facilities support could lead to further deterioration of public safety facilities."
"Without action, the City will continue to see further degradation of aging facilities and increased costs associated with expensive breakdown maintenance and emergency repairs."
And Auditors for the Inspector General of the United States Department of Health and Human Services found that the UCSD Medical Center hospital overcharged the federal Medicare program a total of more than $350,000 on 99 of 210 claims sampled by investigators, a warning of much more possible over-billing by the giant facility.
"We recommend that the Hospital refund to the Medicare contractor $350,897, consisting of $238,021 in overpayments for the incorrectly billed inpatient claims and $112,876 in overpayments for the incorrectly billed outpatient claims, and strengthen controls to ensure full compliance with Medicare requirements, " the auditors wrote.