How would you like to sit home, watch movies, check your Facebook account and get paid for it?
For years that was the status quo in Washington state government when a worker was suspected of wrongdoing. The employee would be sent home while the agency conducted an investigation. Meanwhile, the employee collected full pay and benefits, sometimes for months or even years.
Last year the KING 5 Investigators (KREM 2's sister station in Seattle) detailed the waste associated with this practice, finding that over a five-year period (2006 to 2011) state employees on home assignment were paid $13.5 million in salaries and another $3.7 million in benefits -- a total cost to taxpayers of $17.2 million.
After the KING reports, then-Gov. Christine Gregoire issued a directive to stop the long and costly home assignments. New polices were put in place to fast track investigations and, at the same time, require employees under investigation to do some form of work for the state.
The new strategies worked.
In 2010, 245 state employees were on home assignment. With the new policies in place, the number dropped to 106 in 2012. Currently, only 11 state workers are on home assignment.
"Once agencies are aware they want to do the right thing. Everyone saw that it was unacceptable the way it was managed and have stepped up to change that," said Ginny Dale, Acting State HR Director.
Even the employees getting paid to sit at home told KING 5 it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Former DSHS employee Tammy Jo France sat at home for nearly four years, collecting check after check while the state got to the bottom of her case. She was accused of smuggling prohibited items such as porn into the state facility housing violent sexual predators.
“I got paid to sit home, which was not right,” said France. "And I didn't do any of these things. No I did not do any of these things I was accused of. I'm not in prison. No criminal charges. I have no criminal record."
Former Department of Corrections employee Harry Wilson was paid to sit at home for six-and-a-half months. He was a prison cook, accused of falling asleep at work.
“It was a sweet deal. I got full insurance, I brought home over $2300 a month free and clear and that isn’t counting my holidays and vacation days. Heaven’s, that’s a dream job,” said Wilson. “It’s just a total, total waste of money.”
It’s been exactly one year since state agencies implemented the changes ordered by Gregoire. The savings rolled in.
In 2010 taxpayers paid out more than $4 million in salary and benefits to workers who weren't working. In 2012 the tab shrunk to a quarter of that -- to approximately $1 million.
"We are stewards of public funds and we are accountable to the taxpayers and so making sure that we're making good decisions, that's a great responsibility that we have," said Dale.