Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I told you so

Here's an interesting article from the Hartford Courant.

Here's a quote to set the stage: "The top two DNA scientists at the state's embattled crime lab have fashioned robust second careers as expert witnesses in criminal trials by racking up large amounts of compensatory time, then drawing on that comp time so they can pursue their side work on some weekdays." Where's the causality in this statement? Where's the follow-up analysis?

Here it is: "The practice has long been accepted, even encouraged, by former lab directors as a way to bolster the lab's reputation and credibility. But with the lab now (the modifier "now" means that it wasn't always this busy) toiling under one of the country's worst backlogs of untested crime-scene evidence, including DNA from hundreds of rapes and other felonies, Carll Ladd's and Michael Bourke's use of comp time is coming under increasing scrutiny." - the boss approved the practice. It wasn't always this busy. Staff and budgets haven't kept up with requests for service. Where's the story here? Wait, there's more ...

"A review by The Courant of their time sheets shows that Ladd took 64 full or partial days off from the state lab on comp time over the last two years. Bourke took 52 full or partial comp days off during that same period." - which means that Ladd worked at least 42 extra days during that time period (overtime), for which the compensation wasn't cash but time off. Bourke worked 34 extra days (overtime). Notice the complaint isn't that the two aren't working for their OT compensation - it's what they are doing with their free time. Where's the analysis of how many cases were presented years back vs. now vs. staff?

What isn't being said here is why aren't they being paid cash for their OT work? "Ladd said that he had offered to take a lump sum payment for some of the accrued time instead of taking it off in comp days, but that the state refused." When government goes broke, they pay OT in time instead of cash. Why are they broke? Why can't they hire? That's an easy one ... but is it Ladd and Bourke's fault?

Most civil servants have contractual limits as to how many hours they can bank. At my government job (City of LA MOU 2), I can officially bank 240 hours of comp time. Management will start sending people home after banking 150 hours. This means that I work OT for time - not cash. I then get to take it off later when it's convenient for both me and the city. That time off request has to be approved up the chain of command. I assume that Ladd and Bourke have the same situation.

What also goes unsaid in the article's first page (yes, they rather interestingly hide the follow-up on page two ... but you have to find out how to get there) is the fact that there aren't enough experts to go around. Think of the amount of cases that there are out there. The trier of fact needs as much help as it can get. You couple that with a trained expert idling at home burning comp time and ... I fail to see the correlation between sending the two experts home because the agency can't pay for OT (and what they do with their free time) and the agency's backlog. Clearly they're working a bunch of extra hours. Either appropriate more money for cash OT or hire more analysts (or contract out to a private lab).

I'm hearing more of these types of stories lately. There's no easy fix. But the solution isn't to go after folks for what they do with their free time.


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