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California State Auditor Report Number : I2016-2

Investigations of Improper Activities by State Agencies and Employees
Conflict of Interest, Violation of Post-Employment Ethics Restrictions, Waste of State Funds, Misuse of State Resources, and Incompatible Activities



The California Whistleblower Protection Act (Whistleblower Act) authorizes the California State Auditor (State Auditor) to investigate allegations of improper governmental activities by state agencies and employees. Contained in the Government Code, beginning with section 8547, the Whistleblower Act defines an improper governmental activity as any action by a state agency or employee during the performance of official duties that violates any state or federal law; is economically wasteful; or involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.

To enable state employees and the public to report suspected improper governmental activities, the State Auditor maintains a toll‑free Whistleblower Hotline (hotline) at (800) 952‑5665. The State Auditor also accepts reports of improper governmental activities by mail and over the Internet at

The Whistleblower Act provides that the State Auditor may independently investigate allegations of improper governmental activities. In addition, the Whistleblower Act specifies that the State Auditor may request the assistance of any state agency in conducting an investigation. After a state agency completes its investigation and reports its results to the State Auditor, the State Auditor’s investigative staff analyzes the agency’s investigative report and supporting evidence and determines whether it agrees with the agency’s conclusions or whether additional work must be done.

Although the State Auditor conducts investigations, it does not have enforcement powers. When it substantiates an improper governmental activity, the State Auditor reports confidentially the details to the head of the state agency or to the appointing authority responsible for taking corrective action. The Whistleblower Act requires the agency or appointing authority to notify the State Auditor of any corrective action taken, including disciplinary action, no later than 60 days after transmittal of the confidential investigative report and monthly thereafter until the corrective action concludes.

The Whistleblower Act authorizes the State Auditor to report publicly on substantiated allegations of improper governmental activities as necessary to serve the State’s interests. The State Auditor may also report improper governmental activities to other authorities, such as law enforcement agencies, when appropriate.

Improper Governmental Activities Identified by the State Auditor

Since 1993, when the State Auditor activated the hotline, it has identified improper governmental activities that resulted in a total loss to the State of $576.2 million. These improper activities include theft of state property, conflicts of interest, and personal use of state resources. For example, the State Auditor reported in March 2014 that the Employment Development Department failed to participate in a key aspect of a federal program that would have allowed it to collect an estimated $516 million owed to the State in unemployment benefit overpayments between February 2011 and September 2014. The investigations have also substantiated improper activities that cannot be quantified in dollars but have had negative social impacts. Examples include violations of fiduciary trust, failure to perform mandated duties, and abuse of authority.

Corrective Actions Taken in Response to Investigations

The chapters of this report describe the corrective actions that agencies implemented on individual cases that the State Auditor completed from January 2016 through June 2016. Table A summarizes all of the corrective actions that departments took in response to investigations between the time that the State Auditor opened the hotline in July 1993 until June 2016. In addition to the corrective actions listed, these investigations have resulted in many agencies modifying or reiterating their policies and procedures to prevent future improper activities.

Table A
Corrective Actions
July 1993 Through June 2016

Convictions 12
Demotions 22
Job terminations 87
Resignations or retirements while under investigation* 18*
Pay reductions 55
Reprimands 327
Suspension without pay 28
Total 549

Source: California State Auditor (State Auditor).

* The number of resignations or retirements consists of those that occurred during investigations that the State Auditor has completed since 2007.

The State Auditor's Investigative Work From January 2016 Through June 2016

The State Auditor receives allegations of improper governmental activities in several ways. From January 1, 2016, through June 30, 2016, the State Auditor received 616 calls or inquiries. Of these, 325 came through the State Auditor’s website, 148 through the mail, 97 through the hotline, 39 through facsimile, two through individuals who visited the State Auditor’s office, and five through internal sources. When the State Auditor determined that allegations were outside its jurisdiction, it referred the callers and inquirers to the appropriate federal, local, or state agencies, when possible.

During this six‑month period, the State Auditor conducted investigative work on 657 cases that it opened either in previous periods or in the current period. As Figure A shows, after conducting preliminary reviews, the State Auditor’s staff determined that 368 of the 657 cases lacked sufficient information for investigation. The staff conducted work—such as analyzing available evidence and contacting witnesses—to assess the allegations for another 227 cases. In addition, the staff requested that state agencies gather information for 18 cases to assist in assessing the validity of the allegations. The State Auditor’s staff independently investigated 23 cases and investigated another 21 cases with assistance from other state agencies.

Figure A
Status of 657 Cases
January 2016 Through June 2016

Figure A is a pie chart depicting the status of 657 cases
from January 2016 through June 2016.

Source: California State Auditor.

The State Auditor substantiated improper governmental activities in four of the 23 cases it independently investigated during the period and conducted follow‑up work for 12 cases it had publicly reported previously. In addition, the State Auditor analyzed the 21 investigations that state agencies conducted under its direction and substantiated improper governmental activities in seven of those cases. It also conducted follow‑up work for five cases that state agencies had investigated and that it had publicly reported previously. The results of seven investigations with substantiated improper governmental activities appear in this report.

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