BY ADAM LANG/ It was recently reported that a City employee pled guilty to stealing $1.3 million in printer toner and UPS shipping costs from the Philadelphia Water Dept. In response to this case, Mayor Michael Nutter and Inspector General Amy Kurland had used it as an example of how the IG’s office saves Philadelphia money.
While I fully support and encourage the tracking down of government corruption, the usefulness of the IG’s office is not what taxpayers and government officials should be taking away from this story. What this case shows is that City Hall hasn’t actually looked into cost-cutting and that it has no idea what it actually costs to run the government.
Let’s put the event into perspective. This city employee, over a five-year period, stole $1.3 million from a single department. In this same time period, City Hall raised taxes multiple times because, allegedly, there was no more that could be cut from the budget. They were “cutting into bone”.
For starters, this case of stealing shows managers have been either lying or grossly failing to find cuts and waste in the city budget. We now know a single department has been overpaying just on toner supplies to the tune of $200,000 a year. When the City cried poor and started raising taxes, why weren’t contracts and procurement costs looked at? It is very hard to believe this was the only budget line item that wasn’t inspected for inefficiencies and waste.
As someone who personally handles IT budgets, including printer/copier contracts, I’m stunned that they apparently had a five-year period where usage wasn’t analyzed and contracts put out to bid … especially in a time when they were desperate to find revenue. In fact, this should be standard procedure even when they don’t have budget deficits.
Secondly, this shows that City Hall isn’t aware of what it costs to operate its departments. How do printer toner costs jump on average $200,000 a year in a single department and no one notices or questions it? It’s important to keep in mind this wasn’t found out because of good internal controls or accounting practices that caught the increased costs when reviewing spending, but because another employee rightly turned the violator in. If it wasn’t for that, the thief may well still be stealing from us.
This should make us wonder not just how many other instances of theft that are taking place, but how many other items in the budget we simply pay too much for because no one actually cares to take costs seriously.