OLYMPIA -- Governor Chris Gregoire has directed all state agencies to save money by curbing an expensive practice: paying state workers to sit home and do nothing.
The directive is the result of a KING 5 investigation. In October, KING exposed that in the last few years, hundreds of state employees have sat at home for months - even years in some cases - with full pay, while under investigation for allegations of misconduct on the job.
"It is absolutely unacceptable for a state employee to be on paid leave for years at a time. We can't have state employees sitting at home collecting taxpayer dollars for doing no work," said Gov. Gregoire. “I was disappointed and reacted quickly.”
The detailed directive instructs agencies to restrict home assignments to 15 calendar days. If more time is needed to finish an investigation, the head of the agency must approve an extension in 30-day increments.
The KING 5 investigation also found that few agencies had a policy for home assignments and that record-keeping on them was spotty and in many cases inaccurate. Gov. Gregoire has directed agencies to institute written protocols and to report all cases of home assignments to the State Human Resources Director.
Of the records obtained by the KING 5 Investigators to date, a former DSHS employee, Tammy Jo France of Tacoma, was identified as having the longest home assignment in the state. She was under investigation for allegations of workplace misconduct at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. That’s where DSHS houses sexually violent predators. A convicted rapist there accused France of smuggling food and porn into the facility, and of secretly borrowing large sums of money from him.
From August 3, 2007 to March 14, 2011 taxpayers paid France to stay home and do nothing while the state looked into it. The assignment was to remain in her home from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. near a telephone, in case the state needed her service. France said the ordeal was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"Am I thankful I got paid? Yes I am. But it was still wrong, the way I got paid, because I did nothing to earn my paycheck," said France.
No one from the Special Commitment Center ever called, but the paychecks rolled in. She collected $36,500 a year plus vacation pay, sick pay, and full benefits. The years spent at home also boosted her pension.
It sounds like the best job in the world, but France wanted to work.
"It would have been more productive, especially when they have to cut people and put them on furlough and lay them off. They go without pay and yet it's OK to pay me as I was sitting home,” said France.
The Governor’s directive is part of an effort to bail the state out of its financial mess. By the KING 5 Investigators’ calculations, this one change of limiting home assignments could save the state millions down the road.
Tammy Jo France was cleared by the Washington State Patrol and the FBI in a criminal investigation. They concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges. But DSHS ended up firing her for violating policies. She denies the allegations.
"I did not do any of these things that I've been accused of. I'm not in prison. No criminal charges. I have no criminal record," said France. "You're either right or you're wrong. And if I was wrong, It shouldn't take you three-and-a-half-years to fire me."
Since then DSHS has implemented a strict policy on home assignments. They instituted it in January, which resulted in shorter home assignments and fewer people on them. Currently no one at DSHS is on home assignment.
“We know that with more accountability, there are fewer employees put on home assignment, and those that are, are spending less time at home. I want every agency to take similar action (as DSHS did) to ensure our limited taxpayer dollars are spent in the best way possible,” said Gregoire.
This KING 5 investigation continues as the reporters work to collect data to form a complete and accurate picture of how many state employees have been placed on home assignment, for how long, and how much that’s cost taxpayers.