The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

November 24, 2009
Audit: Board paid for business-class airfare to France, engaged in no-bid contracting

The Bureau of State Audits has released a new report on the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun, which licenses and regulates the pilots who guide ships in those bays and ports in West Sacramento and Stockton.

The 68-page document, which you can read by clicking here, outlines nine areas of concern, including:

  • The board paid for business-class airfare for pilots attending training in France, which may constitute a misuse of public funds.
  • The board lacked a procedure, required in state law, for access to confidential information, and it released information to the public that included a pilot's home address and Social Security number.
  • The board did not consistently adhere to state law when licensing pilots. In one case, it licensed a pilot 28 days before he received a required physical examination; he piloted vessels 18 times during this period.
  • The board renewed some pilots' licenses even though the pilots had received physical examinations from physicians the board had not appointed and, in one case, renewed a license for a pilot who had not had a physical examination that year.
  • Of the 24 investigations we reviewed, 17 went beyond the 90-day statutory deadline for completion.
  • The board did not investigate reports of suspected safety standard violations of pilot boarding equipment, as required by law.
  • The board failed to ensure that all pilots completed required training within specified time frames.
  • The board did not ensure that some of its members and investigators filed required statements of economic interests.
  • The board did not approve several changes to the rates pilots charge for their services, as required by law.

Click the following link to read excerpts of the auditor's report about travel to France and the board's no-bid arrangement for physical exams for pilots.

From page 45 of the audit:

In addition, although the board contracts for various services, it does not have written contracts with the physicians it has appointed to conduct physical examinations of pilots. Written contracts between the board and its appointed physicians would outline the duties of the physicians under contract and ensure consistency in the physical examinations of pilots. Additionally, because these contracts would be subject to competitive bidding as described in state law, the board would have to solicit bids for these contracts.

For example, we reviewed board payments to one medical clinic and determined that they totaled more than $14,000 and $26,000 in fiscal years 2007-08 and 2008-09, respectively. Contracts of $5,000 or more are generally subject to competitive bidding under state law.

The board's president, Knute Michael Miller, had this response on page 60:

The Board concurs with this recommendation and will begin the competitive bid process upon its adoption of the criteria for Board physician qualifications, appointment process and operational structure, which it expects to adopt in the second quarter of calendar year 2010.

Here's what the auditor said about the business-class flights to France:

We also determined that the board made some inappropriate expenditures that could constitute a misuse of state resources ... (I)n a contract between the board and the Bar Pilots covering July 1, 2006, through June 30, 2011, the board requires that the Bar Pilots purchase round‑trip, business‑class airline tickets for pilots attending training in Baltimore, Maryland, and at the Centre de Port Revel in France, and it requires that the board reimburse the Bar Pilots for these expenses. Business‑class air travel provides the same basic service as economy class, but with added amenities of value to the traveler, which may include priority check‑in at the airport and access to exclusive menus and premium beverages.

We reviewed one invoice from the Bar Pilots requesting reimbursement for travel to the Centre de Port Revel in France and noted that business‑class airfare cost an average of $6,200 for each pilot in August 2007. Using similar travel dates in August 2009, including the airline used by the pilots, we determined that, on average, purchasing economy‑class tickets offered by three airlines to Lyon, France--the airport five of the six pilots in our sample used--could reduce costs by roughly 40 percent.

Miller's response on pages 60 and 61:

The Board concurs with the underlying premise that the use of business-class travel must have a legitimate public purpose and not be simply for the convenience of the traveler. The Board does not mandate or reimburse business-class domestic travel for training, notwithstanding the wording of the contract with the Bar Pilots. The Board has in the past mandated and reimbursed business-class intercontinental travel for training.

The fundamental reason and justification for purchasing business-class airfare for intercontinental travel in the past has been based on safety considerations as well as ensuring the effectiveness of the training. The Board president has requested, and the chairman of the Board's Pilot Continuing Education Committee has agreed to schedule, a meeting of the Committee to consider and recommend to the Board alternatives to mandating and reimbursing business-class travel for training. That meeting is scheduled for January 13, 2010. The next manned‑model training session at Port Revel in Viriville, France, begins June 21, 2010, giving the Board ample time to consider and implement recommendations from the Committee.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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