• The Star Staff

Education Dept. launches attendance system long after fiscal board’s clawback

By The Star Staff

Two months after the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board decided to claw back some $30 million from the Education Department (PRDE) for failure to keep adequate payroll records, the agency has launched its time and attendance project.

The time and attendance record system was officially launched March 8 but made public this week. The agency created the system in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority and the island Treasury Department.

“This means that all PRDE employees that did not record their attendance in accordance with the agency’s Time & Attendance Policy for the pay period of February 16 to February 28, 2021 will receive adjustments in their paychecks to be issued on March 31, 2021,” the oversight board wrote in a letter to Education Secretary-designate Elba Aponte Santos. “This process is to be continued and enforced from now going forward, without exceptions.”

In October 2020, the oversight board learned that the PRDE had paid out $84 million in total to 15,000 former employees since 2007. For over a decade and over several government administrations, the PRDE failed to remove former employees and properly account for vacation and sick leave from the payroll on a timely basis because of manual and undocumented processes. About 2,000 active workers were paid more than they were due. At the time, the agency had recovered about $4 million.

Ginorly Maldonado, the oversight board’s director of implementation, said at the time that nearly 769 employees were identified as being inactive, laid off or deceased. In January, the board decided to claw back some $30 million from the agency’s budget representing the salaries of certain inactive workers.

While the oversight board said the completion of implementation of the time and attendance project signifies a major achievement for the PRDE and will potentially save millions of dollars in payroll by ensuring that only active employees who show up to work get paid, it noted that the agency granted mass approval of DE-14 requests absolving certain employees of misconduct.

“As we have mentioned before, such automatic mass approvals are not recommended under any circumstance given that this practice undermines the system that has been put in place and absolves employees from their responsibility to ensure that they are utilizing the system appropriately,” the oversight board told Aponte Santos in a letter dated Friday. “Going forward, PRDE must discontinue this practice and instead, focus on taking corrective action.”

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