It all started in September 2010 in Trumbull County, Ohio.
After receiving an anonymous tip that two county sanitary engineers weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing during work hours, Trumbull department supervisors decided to secretly place GPS tracking devices on the county-owned cars that the engineers drove.
For three weeks, they followed the workers’ movements without their knowledge.
Don Barzak, director of governmental affairs for the Trumbull County Engineer’s office, says he and Engineer Randy Smith were “shocked at the abuse” they uncovered.
Over a three-week period, one of the employees, David Harper, spent over 50% of his work hours during those three weeks engaged in other activities. In one three-day period, Lori Graham spent only an hour per day on work-related business. The rest of the time, the employees were each at their own homes, at other homes, or in shopping centers.
After the employee abuse scandal was discovered, a GPS tracking pilot program was approved by the County Board.
The GPS pilot program tracked six county vehicles, picked randomly, for 75 days. Barzak said “the study was not done for disciplinary purposes, but rather to obtain accurate data in order to evaluate daily operations.”
”The vehicles were chosen randomly. We didn’t do it to get anybody,” Smith said. “No disciplinary actions were handed out.”
Barzak said that only one of the six employees being tracked “went exactly where he was supposed to” but finding that only one in six did was “not so good.”
In one case, an employee took a lunch break of one hour and 12 minutes instead of 30 minutes, then took break times of one hour and 43 minutes instead of 30 minutes the same day.
In another, an employee kept his vehicle running while idle for six hours and 26 minutes out of an eight-hour day, despite a departmental policy against the practice.
”Without a question, the reminder had no impact on the idling,” Smith said.
There was no weather or equipment-related reason for the idling, Barzak said. The temperature was in the high 40s that day, he added, saying he doesn’t know why the employee did it.
Also, sometimes vehicles ”travel out of their way” to reach their intended destination, the study found.
“Taking indirect routes to their assignments wasted the employee’s time, used extra gasoline and put extra wear and tear on county vehicles,” Barzak said. “GPS tracking can help us put an end to this behavior.”
The GPS pilot program found so many problems, the County Board approved in January the purchase of 33 GPS tracking devices – one for each vehicle in the county’s fleet.
Barzak said he expects the devices to reduce the department’s $300,000 fuel costs by at least 10 percent ($30,000), so the savings will easily cover the cost of the devices.
The test showed that the devices can benefit the department in other ways, such as telling the office how long it will be until a plow will make it to a certain area, Barzak said.
In cases where a caller complains about lack of plowing, the office can call up the GPS information to prove the locations where the plow traveled, he noted.
“It is important to be efficient and effective and responsive to the taxpayers of Trumbull County and to provide the best service to the traveling public,” said Donald Barzak of the engineer’s office.
When you give employees the luxury of daily independence without supervision, you invite abuse. The abuse could be controlled thru time-consuming paperwork and roving supervision, but that leads to inefficiency.
Monitoring with GPS tracking devices appears to be the most sensible alternative to controlling employee abuse of time, money and equipment.
In addition to fuel savings, the GPS tracking devices will reduce the wear and tear on vehicles and make employees more productive, Barzak said. The devices also can identify the location of a vehicle if a driver becomes incapacitated, he noted.