San Francisco City Government Is Really Bad At Handling Cash

So bad the Controller’s Office won’t say who’s screwing up.

Photo by Nick Ares, CC BY-SA 2.0

A recent audit of money handling practices by six San Francisco city departments found numerous failures, including staffers storing cash in unlocked containers and failing to keep records of cash receipts, credit card payments being remitted to an employee’s account instead of the city, and accountants telling staff to simply change records when they found discrepancies.

The departments reviewed included the Office of the Treasurer, the Department of Building Inspection, the Department of Public Health, the Arts Commission, the Department of Animal Care and Control, and the Film Commission. The Controller’s Office audited twelve collection points which brought in $4,275,495,925 in the years that were reviewed.

Source: Office of the Controller — City Services Auditor

The audit found that some of the failures created risks of cash being misappropriated or checks being lost without the city noticing what had happened. The Controller’s Office declined to reveal which departments were screwing up, in part because identifying them would increase the risk of the security failures being exploited.

“The cash-handling control weaknesses described in the report you cite constitute a security concern,” wrote the Controller’s Office in response to a public records request. “And publicly naming the departments at which the weaknesses exist could lead to them being exploited, causing potential damage to the City if the information were misused.”

All City News’ public records request for earlier drafts of the report was rejected.

Only one department was found to have satisfactory cash handling processes. Three needed some improvement and two needed major improvement.

Source: Office of the Controller — City Services Auditor

The Controller’s Office has made 80 separate recommendations to improve money handling, and the departments in question have agreed to most of them. Without knowing which departments need improvement, however, it is impossible to know exactly how much money is still at risk of going missing due to weak controls.

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