The $160K mistake: State officials spent your tax dollars to ‘cover-up’ their error

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by Scott Noll / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 11:25 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 2 at 10:48 AM

AUSTIN, Texas – Critics are calling it a textbook case of government waste.

The KHOU 11 News I-Team discovered dozens and dozens of state workers paid to do a job, and then paid again, to re-do the same work because of a mistake.

And, it’s Texas taxpayers who got stuck with the bill.

“It made absolutely no sense for us to do this,” explained Brenda Pisana. “A waste of resources.  What a waste of resources.”

Pisana managed the Central File Coordination Unit for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice before retiring in May, 2013.

She said it was a department largely stuck in the past; filing by-hand thousands of documents the unit received each month and putting them into inmate’s parole files.

But all that changed in August, 2012.

“This change was, it was huge,” recalled Pisana.

She says that summer administrators inside TDCJ changed policy and allowed her department to simply scan the so-called “general correspondence” letters into electronic files, then destroy the originals.

“It was more efficient,” explained Pisana.  “It was huge.”

But Pisana says that efficiency was short-lived.

That December, four and a half months after the policy changed, her bosses did an about-face.

“We were told, stop that new process,” Pisana told the I-Team. “Don't shred anything. Don't destroy anything.  We have to now, start filing everything in the hard copy of the parole file. Essentially reversing everything we had been doing since August.”

Not only that, administrators said the documents that had been shredded would need to be re-printed, and filed manually.

It was no small task since the letters spanned 86,000 different inmate’s files.

But there was something else that Pisana found unusual.

Not only would workers have to re-do months’ worth of work, it needed to be done quickly.

“This was absolutely all hands on deck,” explained Pisana.

Suddenly, she said, supervisors who kept a watchful eye on overtime in the past, told Pisana to do whatever it took to get the job done.

Records obtained by the I-Team show TDCJ employees worked 12, 15, even 16 hour days and weekends to find, print and re-file the documents.

In all, internal department records show it cost taxpayers $160,000 in manpower.

“$160,000?” asked Jimmicia Gordon of Houston when the I-Team showed her the bill.  “Just to print everything and put it back in the files?”

“Wow!” exclaimed Kimmie Bui of Houston.  “That’s more than my salary.”

“It’s just another disappointment with our government, with the wasting of our tax dollars,” lamented Rodney Wade of Montgomery.

So what was all the rush about?

“We try to be good stewards of the state’s money,” explained TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark. “But ultimately we identified that there was a problem.”

The problem was that the state had been shredding letters of support from friends and family members of inmates.

Traditionally, those letters were kept in the inmates’ parole file to be reviewed by the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole when an inmate is up for possible release.

But, it turns out, no one from TDCJ told the parole board that the letters were only being filed electronically, and were now missing from the files being reviewed.

For at least four months, the parole board reviewed cases with no idea of the problem.

“How could this go on for so long and nobody realize there’s a problem,” the I-Team asked TDCJ.

“I think it gets back to communication,” Clark answered.  “Obviously there was a decision that was made and that was not communicated properly through the right people.”

But Pisana believes there was another reason the state was willing to spend so much money to quickly fix the problem.

And, she says, it had everything to do with covering up what happened from the very taxpayers who got the bill.

“They were scurrying to fix something before somebody found out about it,” said Pisana.  “Hurry up and fix it so we can be ahead of the issue when it gets out in the public.”

TDCJ refused to release the name of the employee that failed to tell the parole board about the change in the policy.

However, Clark says she still works for the state agency, and says the costly problem was addressed.

But the I-Team has learned there may be more than just a financial cost to this mistake.

Click here to read how thousands of Texas families may have been impacted.

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