Caltrans accused of waste, sloth

 caltrans photo

March 18, 2010


“Caltrans is a good organization with lots of good policies and procedures,” Manas Thananant told me. “The problem is that no one reads them.”

Thananant knows what he’s talking about. Recently retired from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), where he’d worked since 1980, Thananant has spent the last two years trying to get someone to address the laziness and incompetence he said was rampant in his office.

A native of Thailand, Thananant came to the U.S. in 1970. His job at retirement was senior transportation engineer, and he holds a masters degree in engineering.

“I liked the work that I did, and always did my best,” Thananant, a resident of Folsom, said. “There are lots of good, hardworking employees there. But I was told, ‘This is none of your business.’ It was!”

Thananant began working at Caltrans in August 1980. But by early 2007, while working in the Office of Pavement Design (OPD), Thananant was increasingly concerned about the waste and fraud he felt his colleagues were committing. Specifically, Thananant says he saw his colleagues conducting personal business or sleeping in their offices, or simply not showing up for work at all. He calculated that the other half dozen or so Senior Engineers in his office were working, on average, a mere “24 hours a week.”

For a little over a year, from Mar. 14, 2007 to July 31, 2008, Thananant kept a meticulous diary of his colleagues’ comings and goings in the office. He cross-referenced his diary with the weekly calendars all transportation engineers were to keep showing where they were going to be each day, in case one or more of their colleagues needed to contact them. And he kept every memo he received that concerned Caltrans work policies.

“Work week schedules are typically 40 hours a week,” read one memo, sent out to members of the OPD on Nov. 17, 2006. “Senior [Transportation Engineers] are considered salaried employees meaning they do not need to charge time off for portions of days missed. However, this does not mean that Seniors should be working consistently less than 40 hours a week.”

The memo also explicitly banned the practice of telecommuting. “No one in the office is approved to telecommute or work from home,” stated the memo. “Everyone should be at their desk during their scheduled work time… If working from home is approved, it will be temporary and limited to the need.”

When he was done, Thananant had compiled a stack of documents roughly an inch thick. Then he started writing complaints. And he didn’t mince words, either.

“There are several STEs [Senior Transportation Engineers] in the OPD who show up 24 hours but charge 40 hours of time worked per week, even though it is against written Caltrans Directives, Policies, and Procedures,” Thananant wrote on Sept. 29, 2009 to Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, and Senator Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. “When they arrive to work, they either spend an excessive amount of time on their personal cell phones or simply fall asleep at their desks during business hours. One STE even personally refinanced a home mortgage while another attended a graduation ceremony on State time. The same STE who did the refinance also manipulated time and calendar, on several occasions, so that he could have consecutive Fridays off (double dipping) when he was not supposed to. These practices by Caltrans STEs in the OPD have cost taxpayers at least $500,000.00.”

Thananant complained to his supervisor and to the Caltrans director. He wrote letters to the state Bureau of Audits and Caltrans’ own office of Audits and Investigations. He sent copies of his complaint to the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and the California Transportation Commission. He even complained to the Federal Highway Administration and his local state representatives.

“It is my responsibility and duty as a Professional Engineer to report these fraudulent and wasteful practices,” Thananant wrote in the above letter. “These practices and actions by these individuals, whose salaries are paid for by State and Federal funds, must not be tolerated nor allowed to go on without some action being taken. Taxpayers should not be burdened with these abusive practices especially in this time of economic crises the State of California and the United States of America are facing. I urge you both to take appropriate action against those who have committed, condoned, and tolerated these practices. Taxpayers deserve much better results for their tax dollars.”

And then Thananant heard… nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true: In response to his Dec. 11, 2007 complaint, the Bureau of State Audits wrote Thananant a brief letter a week later, acknowledging receipt of his complaint.

“We are processing your complaint under Section 8547 of the California Government Code, the California Whistleblower Protection Act,” Russ Hayden, the auditor’s manager of investigations, wrote on Dec. 17, 2007. “However, it is important for you to know that it is not possible for this office to act as an advocate for individuals in their disputes with state departments or employees. In addition, by law we must conduct our investigations confidentially. As a result of the law, we cannot keep you informed about the progress or results of our review.”

That was more than two years ago. Thananant says he never heard back the auditor’s office. Since state agencies will not comment on “personnel matters” like these, it was impossible for CalWatchdog to determine what, if anything, any agency has done with Thananant’s myriad complaints. OK, that’s not entirely true, either: through the California Public Records Act, we were able to confirm that all the engineers Thananant criticized in his complaints are still working for Caltrans.

For its part, Caltrans refused to comment on Thananant’s complaint, though a spokesman did insist that the department is taking the matter seriously.

“In November 2007, Mr. Thananant filed a retaliation and race based complaint in which he alleged differential treatment, retaliation and harassment against his then supervisor and other senior staff,” Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco e-mailed on Mar. 17. “The complaint was investigated by the State Personnel Board and the allegations of discrimination were not substantiated. The case was closed in July 2008. A subsequent investigation on an additional complaint by Mr. Thananant is currently being conducted by Caltrans and is not yet final. By law, details of personnel-related investigations are confidential.”

Given the fact that Thananant first began complaining to his superiors more than two years ago, Caltrans must be conducting a very thorough investigation indeed. But it’s also fascinating that Rocco said the department is still looking into Thananant’s complaint because a recent report on Caltrans’ Capital Outlay Support (COS) program – the development and management of $10 billion in state highway projects – by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office makes a compelling case that Thananant’s experiences merely scratched the surface of Caltrans’ productivity troubles.

“The cumulative evidence from our review shows that the program is overstaffed and lacks strong management,” stated the March 2, 2010 LAO report. “[B]ased on the information provided in the work plan, it is impossible to determine whether the requested funding and staffing levels provide what the department actually needs to deliver transportation projects.” In fact, the LAO found that the department may be overstaffed “by as much as 15 percent.”

For its part, Caltrans insists that it’s not overstaffed. But Thananant wasn’t surprised by the LAO report.

“It confirms what I have said,” he told CalWatchdog. “Longtime Caltrans employees know that a 25 percent cut is still OK.”


Write a comment
  1. L-A
    L-A 18 March, 2010, 14:11

    Is no one managing the workers over there? Do they not work on projects and have deliverables? This needs to be investigated further.

    Reply this comment
  2. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 19 March, 2010, 08:24

    Waste, fraud and abuse, not only ignored, but actually condoned. Interesting documentation here, but I can’t really say this is ‘news’.

    Reply this comment
  3. Omar Ch
    Omar Ch 26 March, 2010, 13:59

    I am suprized somebody actually reported it. This type of habitual abuse of state and local work time has been going on for years. Why now all of a sudden since we are in dire straights budget wise do we start looking into it? This just varifies what people have told me for years. Get a Government job, all you do is sit around and get paid!……

    Reply this comment
  4. Roger
    Roger 6 April, 2010, 18:29

    I can find lots of waste. I used to work for them. One is money budgeted for each district yearly must all be spent before the next budget. Failure to spend all of it, results in their budget being cut by what they managed to save the year before. That money is given to another district to add on to their budget. So those who try to save money are in fact penalized. No reason for that system to keep going on like this. Each districshould be encouraged to save and not be penalized by doing so. One more way to save money is a simple one too. I wrote Gov. Brown when I first went to work for the state about this. Any raise accross the board should be equaled not by the percentage system that only increases the gaps between the rich and the poor. Give everyone the same raise. If it is a dollar a hour raise, then everyone gets a dollar an hour raise. The precentage raise is wrong because it gives one a dollar an hour cost of living and another four dollars an hour cost of living raise. This only widens the pay gap every time the raises come up. We also worked 4days 40 hours and that takes one fith of the traffic off the roads and one fith fuel savings per week. There are many ways to save money tie the salery of the state ledgeslators budget and spending. They spend less they make more.

    Reply this comment
  5. Gary Anderson
    Gary Anderson 30 June, 2010, 13:58

    We deal with Caltrans projects on a daily basis and see alot of waste we
    have brought issues up to both to the district and state level but nothing
    is ever done. Caltrans has more power than any elected offical and the answer
    to nobody. Our Tax dollars are not at work at Caltrans

    Reply this comment
  6. Retired Employee
    Retired Employee 24 August, 2010, 12:46

    Want to know about waste. Let’s talk Caltran vehicles. In my district there are very few freeway miles. States truck odometers showed mileages that far exceeded any possible work related uses. Those trucks were used as personal transportation, gas included, round trip from home to work often out of district. Policy for this group prohibited this use. It was reported within district and also to Sacramento. Nothing changed. I admire Mr. Thananant for his contribution but can you imagine how much money rectifying this problem could save the state.

    Reply this comment
  7. WorkingBee
    WorkingBee 30 September, 2010, 21:46

    I have to say i have been going to cal trans everyday this week to finish my required hours for my ridiciolus court case and BY FAR it is the most lack luster rude people I have ever seen. We would drive around in the vans all the way from Orange County to Long Beach and bike then stop and burger king get food go drive to a park an hour away and then take a two hour lunch while THE DRIVER SLEEPS IN HIS VAN THE ENTIRE TIME. Things like this happen all the time at cal trans and its a shame to see these guys just driving around burning fuel and pollusting CA even more while they should at least in all honestly just let us work and get our time over with its sickening to have to deal with this.

    Reply this comment
  8. Sonia Poladian
    Sonia Poladian 23 February, 2011, 19:09

    Caltrans is most definitely overstaffed. Employees do little yet demand a lot (cell phones, state vehicles, overtime). Caltrans employees are lazy and wasteful. Caltrans is a “gravy train” that taxpayers are paying for!!!

    Reply this comment
  9. Equalizer
    Equalizer 28 September, 2011, 20:13

    One of the main problem’s with Caltrans stems from the type of Individuals, they hire. They seem to have this uncanny propensity to attract some of the laziest, backbiting,devisive type of people. Having an intense entitlement attitude, along with a lust for finding dirt on someone and then using it to manipulate their way into a position. And whats even more ridiculous is the more you screw up the most likely you are to become in charge! After experiencing true professionalism in years past, one can only laugh at the 3-ring circus, one experiences. Sad part is some of them are good workers, and they have to work twice as hard to cover for the lazy morons. Good professional people that are worth their salt, dont even want to deal with an organization like Caltrans., because of the political correctness crap and all of the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through. True professionals dont play games, they make things happen.

    Reply this comment
  10. annonymous insider
    annonymous insider 19 October, 2011, 01:08

    Caltrans with a budget of over $12 billion is a welfare system designed to feed the incompetent engineers and other staff. If you are smart, concerned, brave, honest you cannot last at Caltrans.

    If you are smart, you can see the waste and corruption in the system but they don’t want you to see it; if you are a concerned citizen, you question their project when it is adverse to the public or environmental interest, but they don’t want you to question them; if you are brave and are willing to riks your job, you refuse to follow illegal orders and if you are honest you will tell the truth, but they don’t want you to tell the truth. They want you to close your eyes to waste, fraudlent contracts, corrupton and illegal expediturs.

    Reply this comment
    SONIA POLADIAN 7 February, 2012, 16:25

    Caltrans – Waste @ Work. When is the Governor going to step up and do something about all the waste in government spending. Caltrans is overstaffed, overpaid, and over compensated. Benefits to State employees are ridiculous. If that wasn’t enough employees are given 9/80s or 4/10s. These people don’t work as is and giving them extra works for days off is beyond me.

    Do something Governor Brown. Lay off thousands of employees that occupy 12 District with Caltrans employees. Allowing for four key Districts to manage California is enough–L.A., SF, RIV, HQs is sufficient enough.


    Reply this comment
  12. Equalizer
    Equalizer 13 February, 2012, 16:27

    People bitch about the benefits state workers get, and they seem to forget the politicians and administrators get 4x as much as a typical maintenance worker, or equipment operator that works for Caltrans. I’m not for waste, but concentrate on the real problem! The old saying: Shit rolls down hill! Well somebody at the very top created the shit and pushed down the hill! So if the people at the bottom are lazy, what do you think the bastards at the top are. They give new meaning and proverbial support to the word lazy! They are supposed to be educated fiscally and logisticaly, yet they are the biggest reason this state is broke! Politicians are nothing but Professional Panhandlers with a constant lying and bullshit stories and excuses. And how do they respond when they are caught in the lie or mess, they make up more bull shit and lies . And that in their minds translates to Tax them even more! So who is the real lazy morons? Not hard to figure out. Quit concentrating on the small guy and take a look at the Idiots at the Capital…..

    Reply this comment
  13. Equalizer
    Equalizer 13 February, 2012, 16:50

    The people at the bottom , are just doing what they are told to do. And following the policy procedures that are made by the Lawyers for the state.You want to talk waste! start looking at what the EPA is creating for everyone. You haven’t seen anything yet wait til 2015. The biggest Environmental bullshit you have ever seen is about to begin, tying the hands of state workers to really complete their tasks. Every day more time is being wasted trying to comply with the new policies of the EPA Stormwater Regiment and Waste Management crap! This folks is why the freeways look like shit, and the trash is not being picked up! And it gives the appearance that Caltrans workers are not trying to do their jobs. You really want to know whats going on in Caltrans! Try looking at the EPA and the State Capitol politicians. Oh and don’t forget to slap the shit out of every tree-hugging environmentalist because they are driving force behind all this enormous pile of time and money wasting Bullshit! These morons have a policy for everything, and yet everything is getting worse and costing more money.And our freeways are piling up with trash. There is another old saying:” There is nothing quite so dangerous as a pacifist, for they will readily sacrifice others for their ideals.” wake up and smell the coffee! people!

    Reply this comment
  14. Dist 8
    Dist 8 17 December, 2012, 20:07

    I have worked for CalTrans for a few years and I have to say it is truly ran like a 3 Ring Circus! The wastful spending on man power and the LACK of Management is unreal!! Caltrans will not pay their Field employees on time and you have to jump through many hoops just to get your pay. I have seen men sleeping in their trucks under bridges and off the side of the road during work hours. One time 6 yards put on a giant BBQ they called a “Safey Meeting”. There was over 60 CalTrans field employees and supervisors at this BBQ. All on state time driving in state cars and trucks.. Tax Payer Funds being wasted as usual! I have seen yards so over staffed there were 4 men to a truck to do 1 man’s job. Working for CalTrans is a joke. I don’t know how the state can keep wasting our Tax Dollar’s like this. The entire CalTrans system should be shut down! The state Gov. Brown is the ring leader of all our wasted fund’s. He should be kicked out of office!!!
    I have never worked with so many Lazy, Back Stabbing, Incompetent People before. I don’t know where these useless people come from or how they get hired.
    If you are looking for a job with CalTrans PLEASE DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME!! They won’t pay you for month’s and you will go through hell just to get your back pay!!

    Reply this comment
  15. Sonia Poladian
    Sonia Poladian 19 January, 2013, 15:19

    Waste is not the only item of importance directed at Caltrans. Discrimination is widespread. It not want you know but who you know in the organization. Prior to retiring, I had a complaint against actions by my supervisor. He was working me out of class. I was an Engineering Tech doing Transportation Engineering work. In fact I trained all new engineers in the branch. I was told however that I was doing non-technical work. Ok. Why is it then that once I retired my position was filled with a Transportation Engineer. Obvious answer, discrimination!

    Reply this comment
  16. Oreste
    Oreste 19 May, 2013, 19:44

    I note that the tower cable issue has now been joined by a skyway cable rust issue that Sacramento Bee article indicated was ok’d based on faulty Caltrans data. If true, this would suggest not only incompetence, but perhaps massive fraud. It appears an all out investigation of possible criminal activity is warranted. The scenario I’m seeing: the whole bridge will have to be torn down and rebuilt. Another twenty years.

    The question is, beyond political considerations, why did a bridge that took so long to build, have so many problems? And who’s to pay? Certainly not the companies that incorrectly applied grout, or let cables rust.

    The question really becomes: what is to prevent this from happening again, unless a house-cleaning of top CALTRANS official is considered, after determining which ones were responsible signatories of documents that said the job was properly done.

    Reply this comment
  17. District 9
    District 9 19 June, 2013, 19:28

    Thank you district 8, you give me courage to write here too. I’ve been with Caltrans for a few 3 years. Witnessed enough favoritism , discrimination and harassment in my first camp, but then I went to district 9 Special Crews and WOW! The waste and fraud. Thousands of dollars in thermo tape sitting in yard allowed to rot and then get ordered to start throwing it in dumpster to get rid of it. The drinking on and off hours while driving Caltrans trucks. Visiting whore houses in Parump Nevada , crashing a trailer and truck and covering it up. Watching workers that are labeled “trouble makers” if they question anything get forced by supervisors to transfer out. I’ve had to ride around an entire day so many times while working a “sign crew” and did absolutely not one sign for an entire week on many occasions. Supervisors being investigated for overtime abuse for themselves. Everyone afraid to speak up due to intimidation or can’t wait to cut ones throat in hopes of advancement by management, which usually happened. Never to ask questions or your next to be labeled a “trouble maker” and forced to transfer. I’m embarrassed to be seen in a Caltrans vehicle. Hell is every day of work.

    Reply this comment
  18. watchdawg
    watchdawg 16 August, 2013, 08:33

    I have witnessed this waste at Valley Wells rest area stop between Baker and Mountain Pass on my way to Las Vegas. There was this supervisor who just sat there watching the public go by for hours on the benches provided. There were a lot ot people and he took the entire bench. At one point sleeping. I was there to witness that because I broke down there with my car. Later I found out he was the supervisor with Caltran because of his vehicle that was parked nearby and later recognized himself when restroom workers were trying to handle a maintenance issue with the womens restroom. Unbeliveable! Stop wasting our money CALTRANS! P.S. My suggestion get rid of that lazy supervisor who obviously would be better off wasting our tax dollars at home asleep on unemployment; and have someone who actually wants to work and cares.

    Reply this comment
  19. BeenBullied
    BeenBullied 9 December, 2013, 11:58

    Ive been a Caltrans staffer for over 10 years. It is a terrible place. The bullying and discrimination is a reverse process there. It would be akin to the Farsi Mafia. they promote their own, and it is rampant. The district we work in just terminated an Office Chief who held this position for over 10 years. There were 55 separate complaints from 18 different individuals. It took them years to take action. There are some good people there, but they live in fear of retaliation every day. When I first came to work there, an Office Chief took me aside and said…”Its unfortunate, but you should consider yourself a gifted student in a ghetto school, that’s the only way I can explain what goes on here”

    Any complaint no matter how trivial is taken as an attack personally, and you will be labeled and bad mouthed by those who wish to climb the ladder on your back. I haven’t even touched the surface of the fraudulent documents staff are often asked to write. That’s another form of intimidation. I have given up fighting this culture. I would never recommend Caltrans as a potential employer to young people. It is a demoralizing and mediocre pit of bottom feeders, and a disgrace to the profession of public service.

    Reply this comment
  20. BeenBullied
    BeenBullied 9 December, 2013, 14:53

    Adding to my previous comment, I was so harassed at Caltrans that I took my case of denial of Reasonable Accommodation (RA) before the State Personnel Board (SPB). I had provided all medical documentation, and I was told that because they couldn’t see my injury, they would deny it. I won the case. The Judge ordered Caltrans to comply. They still harassed me, and I alerted the Judge of this. They were called back before the SPB two additional times and told that if they did not comply with his orders, they would be fined. Four years later, they still were sending emails to Deputies and Office Chief’s disparaging me.

    I actually received a memo stating I had gone to an un-authorized last minute medical appointment. Needless to say the SPB found this insane. There are so many instances on record of these individuals, yet nothing happens because they are able to bury the incidents at the District level, and intimidate people by threatening their careers and livelihood. Seriously-would you stand up for an abused colleague-if you thought it would jeopardize the financial situation of your family. Nobody would. And finally-lets not forget the man in our district who Jumped to his death in 2011, from the 15th floor balcony.

    The most powerful statement of all. It was clear to everybody in our building that if someone wanted to kill themselves, they would not choose the workplace, unless they wanted to send a message.

    Reply this comment
  21. Gettingoutofstate
    Gettingoutofstate 12 August, 2014, 09:31

    Exactly described. This kind of culture is not just at CALTRANS but also at CDCR, CDPH & DTSC the 3 agencies I worked at tyo find a bettr culture. Nonew of them had what I had in private. There are all laws, polcies & procedures. But they are all broken. Who follows and who uphelds. If we say something we get discriminated, retaliated. So, finally decided to get out of state service. It is a shame to public service. I do not have time to chnage the culture nor am I wasting my life fighting them. It is not worth it for the amount of pay we get.

    Reply this comment
  22. Jewels
    Jewels 6 November, 2016, 04:37

    I have worked at caltrans for about 10 years. I am being severely harassed by management. It has really affected my health. They are getting away with it so the harassment is getting worse. I have complained to upper management and health and safety but they are all siding with management. Reading these comments are scaring me to the point I feel that fighting this fight is waste of time. Cannot afford to quit. Trying to get another position but management is giving false bad references to people who are interested in hiring me. Management is trying really hard to get rid of me. Nothing is being done to help me. Caltrans is an awful agency to work for. I would strongly suggest that people do not apply to work at caltrans as they will illegally sick the life out of you and get away with it.

    Reply this comment
  23. Markuf
    Markuf 10 November, 2016, 12:21

    It is a widely known fact that those who do not earn the funds they require to then spend are incredibly lazy, slow, great at justifying their existence and produce very little if anything toward the good.

    Our government employees produce the least of any labor force in america, they do the most useless but convince themselves otherwise.

    Our government workers get paid the most for doing the least.

    You would think that because we spend more on our military than anyone else wé would proportionately have more ammo, more uniforms, etc. NO. it’s the same over staffing found in all other branches of our government. I’d even venture to say their are more administrative personal than their are soldiers

    Reply this comment
  24. Cuddlebear
    Cuddlebear 13 November, 2016, 12:19

    I am being forced to retire from caltrans due to the unlawful harassment from caltrans management. Cannot afford to retire but have no choice as my health is deteriorating fast. I have complained of this terrible harassment but nothing is being done. Even complained to governor, and again nothing is being done. Even though I have proof, management continues to get away with it. They are too powerful for me to fight and am running out of energy trying. Caltrans is an awful place to work at. If you want to keep your sanity, do not bother to apply for caltrans. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank-you

    Reply this comment
  25. Jewels
    Jewels 13 November, 2016, 12:19

    I am being forced to retire from caltrans due to the unlawful harassment from caltrans management. Cannot afford to retire but have no choice as my health is deteriorating fast. I have complained of this terrible harassment but nothing is being done. Even complained to governor, and again nothing is being done. Even though I have proof, management continues to get away with it. They are too powerful for me to fight and am running out of energy trying. Caltrans is an awful place to work at. If you want to keep your sanity, do not bother to apply for caltrans. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank-you

    Reply this comment
  26. Cuddlebear
    Cuddlebear 13 November, 2016, 12:20

    I am being forced to retire from caltrans due to the unlawful harassment from caltrans management. Cannot afford to retire but have no choice as my health is deteriorating fast. I have complained of this terrible harassment but nothing is being done. Even complained to governor, and again nothing is being done. Even though I have proof, management continues to get away with it. They are too powerful for me to fight and am running out of energy trying. Caltrans is an awful place to work at. If you want to keep your sanity, do not bother to apply for caltrans. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank-you

    Reply this comment
  27. Paulkchoi
    Paulkchoi 19 April, 2018, 13:47

    This guy was probably passed over for a promotion to Supervising Transportation Engineer and has sour grapes. Don’t bite the hand that feeds. Yes some people take advantage but most work hard, especially management because we have to lead by example to our staff. We can’t take off without our people knowing about it.

    Reply this comment
  28. Concernedcitizen
    Concernedcitizen 16 October, 2018, 21:58

    I fully agree with many of the comments here. As a former public works contractor, I can say from experience that working for Caltrans is a nightmare. The RE’s ran projects like autocrats, many of the employees we dealt with were either inexperienced and/or unethical, and they were terrible about payment. In fact, the agency sometimes wouldn’t pay for months and they’ve even been known to hold up payment for over a year. (There was always some excuse, of course.) This totalitarian, “behemoth bureaucracy” has pushed numerous small contractors to the brink of insolvency as a result, and deterred many more from bidding on highway work, to the detriment of taxpayers. The “prompt payment act” deadlines are a joke (Caltrans was anything but prompt, and never paid penalties on late payments) as is their partnering program. This is one State agency that has clearly run amok. Wake up legislators.

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