The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has not ensured that the employees who transport clients in NYC drive safely and have valid driver's licenses, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"Much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of the agency's disabled clients," DiNapoli said. "The disregard for safe driving is troubling, both for the clients and the general public. Hundreds of thousands of dollars was wasted on fines and late fees for drivers' violations that could have been used to provide services for the agency's disabled clients. We hope and expect the agency will take immediate steps to more closely monitor its drivers and ensure safe transport of its clients."
OPWDD provides significant long-term care and residential support services for New Yorkers. In New York City it oversees 115 residences through offices in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. These offices have about 450 vehicles (out of 3,000 statewide), with one or two vehicles assigned to each residence depending on how many clients it has. The agency uses the vehicles to transport clients to and from medical appointments and other services.
DiNapoli's audit found OPWDD vehicles were repeatedly issued violations for running red lights and speeding through school zones. In many instances, violations were not paid or were paid late.
More specifically, the audit, which looked at vehicles assigned to the agency's NYC offices from April 1, 2015 through June 26, 2018 found:
- 467 unpaid traffic violations were issued to 144 vehicles, racking up $43,000 in fines, penalties and interest as of Oct. 2017.
- 273 were for speeding in school zones, most of them (203) by Brooklyn-based vehicles. More than one-third of the total school zone violations were during hours when children were most likely to be entering or leaving school.
- Officials don't closely monitor Department of Motor Vehicles' (DMV) notifications of driver incidents, which include suspended and expired licenses.
- Of 282 employees reviewed, 50 had their license suspended at least once between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2018.
- Seven drivers continued to drive OPWDD vehicles assigned to transport clients while their licenses were suspended. These drivers had 15 total suspensions and drove agency vehicles at least 33 times with suspended licenses.
- OPWDD does not analyze traffic violations and driving histories to identify if employees need training, counseling, reassignment or dismissal. For example:
- One employee received 15 points between April 2017 and October 2017 and had their license suspended for unsafe actions such as using a cell phone while driving and for backing up unsafely.
- Another employee received 12 points between July 2016 and June 2017 and had their license suspended for unsafe actions such as using a cell phone while driving, failing to stop at a stop sign, and speeding.
- Tickets are often paid late because the agency lacks guidance on how to pay them.
- From April 1, 2015 through Feb. 7, 2018, the agency paid $200,000 in fines, interest and penalties due to driver infractions.
- Brooklyn officials generally ignored the violations.
- Queens officials said they advised employees to pay for their violations, but did not monitor payments, and generally did not recoup the money from them when the agency paid them.
- Except for Staten Island, the NYC offices generally did not identify employees who were ticketed or were responsible for paying violations. Auditors identified to the agency several drivers who have received repeated violations for speeding through school zones.
- Vehicle repairs related to manufacturer recalls are not being done timely, or at all.
The audit offered several recommendations, including that the agency:
- Analyze traffic violations and driving histories to determine whether drivers need training, counseling, reassignment or dismissal.
- Create procedures to identify and hold accountable drivers responsible for traffic violations so that fines are paid on time and recouped.
- Monitor DMV reports to ensure drivers' licenses are valid. Ensure that drivers whose licenses are suspended are not driving agency vehicles.
- Ensure recall repairs are being done and are documented.
In its response, OPWDD disagreed with some of the findings, stating that many violations did not present safety issues and that the audit did not analyze whether clients were in the vehicles when they occurred. It noted that it is taking steps to strengthen its monitoring of DMV alerts. It also stated it is altering its system for paying fines and will remind staff of their responsibilities, including reimbursing OPWDD for fines incurred while driving State vehicles.
To read the full report, including the agency's response, go to: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093019/sga-2018-17s50.pdf
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