EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Acting on a viewer tip, the Target 12 Investigators spent months watching a Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) pickup truck sitting in a parking lot located well into Massachusetts.
Before the undercover investigation went to air, we already started seeing results.
From late January through late April, Target 12 observed the same worker in the same DOT truck parked in the same lot day after day, often for more than an hour at a time, for a total of 29 hours. On several occasions, he appeared to be sleeping in the driver’s seat while the truck was running.
We took our findings to RIDOT, who confirmed that the worker was supposed to be on the clock for more than 17 of those hours.
Immediately after learning of our findings, RIDOT took action. The employee was reassigned the next day, and an internal investigation was launched. There are also new procedures in place at RIDOT aimed at stopping this from happening again as a result of our investigation.
From the beginning, Target 12’s focus went beyond this one RIDOT employee. We wanted to know what he was supposed to be doing, and how his absence went unnoticed by supervisors.
RIDOT confirmed the employee is an engineering technician, earning a salary of roughly $40,000. They also confirmed his shift is supposed to be from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but Target 12 undercover cameras recorded him in the Massachusetts parking lot as early as 1:30 p.m. On April 14, for example, we watched as he sat for an hour and a half, apparently sleeping, while he was supposed to be on the clock.
“We’ll be diligent in making sure that this particular situation is straightened out,” said RIDOT Director Peter Alviti.
Alviti told us the engineering technician’s job was to inspect concrete at a Rhode Island plant, to make sure the mix had the required ratio of water and dry material. Alviti also said this case prompted him to personally address about 90 RIDOT employees who have similar access to state vehicles.
“The public sector is not an easy place to be, I reminded them,” said Alviti. “But it’s the place we chose to be employed. All of us. And with that comes some additional responsibilities, particularly when it comes to public perception.”
In this case, the employee was recorded not working while he was on the clock on 20 different days, for a total of about 17 and a half hours. That raised some questions: What did not get done? And should his supervisor have noticed any lost productivity?
According to Alviti, part of RIDOT’s investigation concluded that the required concrete inspections were completed and logged correctly. So we wanted to know: if an employee can do their duties in less time, is there a way to use them more efficiently?
“We’re already working our way through that with the managers in this case,” Alviti answered, “to develop a set of new procedures to make things better there.”
Alviti said the investigation determined the employee did his assigned work, but since he did not work a full day in some cases, RIDOT is looking into new efficiency and tracking measures.
One change prompted by our investigation will involve placards on the doors of what are now unmarked vehicles, to make the vehicles more noticeable to the general public. Bumper stickers with RIDOT’s phone numbers will also be placed on the vehicles, for the public to call if they notice an out-of-place truck.
“If they see a vehicle parked during the working day in a place where they suspect no DOT work is going on,” said Alviti, “or if the person is misusing or misdriving or whatever.”
Alviti tells Target 12 that about 90 now-unmarked RIDOT vehicles will be marked within the next two months. The agency is also exploring the cost of electronic monitoring measures.
“All of the effort that we put in over the last two years to recreate DOT can be lost for a single incident,” Alviti added.
Meanwhile, the $40,000-a-year employee involved in this case was administratively reassigned. There’s no timeframe for how long the internal investigation will take. Alviti said he is confident this was an isolated case.