Audit finds Austin restaurant inspectors shopping, napping while on the job

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KXAN (AUSTIN) – A city auditor investigation released Friday found wastefulness in the Public Health Department, including inadequate oversight of field work and restaurant inspections. Investigators also discovered on-the-job napping, workouts and personal shopping, according to the report.

Austin Public Health’s Environmental Services Division, which conducts restaurant inspections among other duties, “wasted city resources as a result of grossly inefficient practices and procedures,” according to the audit.

Auditors also found three environmental health officers wasted time while on the city clock, and two “may have attempted to conceal their misuses on their inspection reports.”

Environmental health officers spend a majority of their time in the field with “limited oversight,” according to the report. Inspectors had no set list of daily inspections; rather, inspectors chose to inspect whichever restaurant was due, and officers were not required to notify supervisors ahead of inspections or check in before or after they were conducted, auditors found.

Restaurant inspectors “wasted city resources as a result of grossly inefficient practices and procedures.”

Investigators said they found several instances of officers saying their inspections took place at times that did not square with what the auditors observed.

According to the report, supervisors were only conducting a “supervisory audit,” which is an in-person check of an officer’s inspection, on less than two percent of inspections. Despite concerns about officers wasting time, management did not regularly review or question how time was being used in the field.

Audit office investigators followed three environmental health officers inspectors during their daily routine and found inspectors napping, shopping and exercising, according to the report.

Investigators found one environmental health officer working out at a local gym for an hour and a half to two hours on at least two separate days. She also left work an hour early on one occasion. She “also may have attempted to conceal the misuse by misrepresenting the time in and out on her written inspection reports,” the audit states.

Another employee was observed napping in her car and misrepresented the times she went in and came out of a restaurant inspection, auditors said.

A third environmental health officer was seen shopping, taking extended breaks and exercising in a movie theater parking lot during work hours, according to the audit.

The city’s Human Resources Department is reviewing the findings and will take appropriate action for the individual employees.

In a memo, the Public Health Department said it has started a review of the oversight and field inspection processes to find improvements. The department is also looking to buy new inspection software that can address many of the issues with accountability and internal control and that will automate parts of the inspection reports.

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