Luzerne County government employees can clock absent co-workers in and out on the county's biometric time system because it accepts the wrong finger scan, county Controller Walter Griffith discovered Friday.
The prior county administration selected the more expensive finger scan system because it was supposed to prevent this type of buddy punching.
Workers must enter their personal employee code into a device and then wait until the system accepts their finger scan verifying their identity.
But Griffith demonstrated Friday that employees can clock other workers in and out if they have their colleagues' personal employee codes and act quickly after their own log-in.
For example, one worker in his office entered her code and finger scan. When it was accepted, she immediately entered the code of a male colleague who was not in any county buildings at that time, and the system accepted her finger scan under his code.
It should say that finger is not a match, but it doesn't, he said.
Griffith returned to the time clock tracking program on the computer in his office at the county's Penn Place Building in downtown Wilkes-Barre, and it verified this male worker was now recorded as clocked in and present in the building.
The tracking program notes which time clock was used to punch in the man but provides no evidence that the entry was made by another worker, he said.
He also tested the glitch with other employees, with the same result. Another employee was able to punch in a coworker with his finger scan at a time clock in the courthouse, Griffith said.
Griffith said he will present his findings to the administration.
Kingston resident Brian Shiner, a citizen watchdog, made Griffith aware of the problem. Shiner said an employee reported it to him because the worker was aware of others using the technique to punch in colleagues who were tardy or left work early.
The person wanted this abuse to stop, Shiner said.
County Manager Robert Lawton said this was the first he's been informed of the problem. He said the administration will internally investigate and welcomes a report from the controller on the matter.
We have to see if it can or can't be fixed through programming, Lawton said.
A representative of the time clock supplier – Chelmsford, Mass.-based Kronos Inc. – could not be reached for comment Friday.
The county has spent around $700,000 on the Kronos system and related data hosting services through another company to date, Griffith said.
The purchase is being funded with money previously borrowed through bonds for capital projects.
Prior commissioners Maryanne Petrilla, Thomas Cooney and Stephen A. Urban approved the system at the end of 2010, saying it would improve tracking of hours worked and time off, eliminate abuse and reduce the manual processing of payroll.
Shiner said people come to him with tips because he actively attends meetings and speaks out about problems.
He started questioning county government during the countywide reassessment and said he's still upset with Petrilla's handling of his effort to speak at a packed 2008 reassessment meeting when he requested additional time to reach the podium due to a disability.
She told me to stand where I was because I was loud enough, he said, adding, Maryanne, can you hear me now?
Griffith has questioned the value of the time clocks largely because non-union court employees and assistant public defenders and assistant district attorneys do not punch in and out. County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Thomas Burke has said judges must reserve the right to supervise the hours and compensation of their non-union workers because the court is an independent branch.
It's unclear how this issue will be resolved because Lawton said last week he uses the clocks and wants all employees to do the same.