By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley recently was tipped off that a dozen state employees and contractors went bowling for three hours Friday while on the clock.
The employees and contractors work in the Department of Health and Human Services Department’s Information Systems and Technology section, and went to Sun Valley Lanes during the workday for a meeting and “recognition event.”
According to HHS, two state employees and contractors had been working on activities related to the Affordable Care Act and held the bowling alley event to discuss some work items and recognize completion of a project. The first hour was spent on work-related activities and recognition, and the next two hours were spent bowling.
Foley said the employees are high paid, earning $34 to $115 an hour. A listing of the employees’ titles and pay shows most of the contractors from Covendis were IT business systems analysts and the dozen folks were earning an average of $69 an hour. HHS is frequently the target of critical audits by the state auditor.
Prior to working for the state, the HHS supervisor had worked in the private sector, where this kind of event is common, HHS said. He did make sure all transportation, food, drinks and bowling costs were paid for by the people attending and attendance was voluntary. No alcohol was consumed, HHS said.
However, the HHS staffer told the employees and contractors they could count the outing as work time.
“This is also common in the private sector but is unacceptable in the public sector,” HHS said in a statement.
The HHS Information Systems and Technology administrator did not have prior knowledge of the event or approve it, HHS said. The administrator has spoken with the supervisor, who was unaware the event was chargeable and is “very apologetic for his error in judgment.”
“The administrator has informed the supervisor this is against state practice and is not to be repeated,” HHS said.
The contractors will be asked to change the other hours to vacation or unpaid time, HHS said and HHS is reviewing labor contract and personnel rules to determine how to deal with the hours for the two state employees. HHS spokeswoman Kathie Osterman said since the bowling outing just happened on Friday, nobody has been paid yet for that time period.
Foley said after inquiring about the outing, HHS employees immediately owned up to it and vowed to make sure the money is restored and hours docked.
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