Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Audit: Customer Service Lacking at PWSA

For the first time since taking office, Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb has audited the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and found it is doing a good job of dealing with its money but not as good of a job dealing with its customers. Controller Lamb says he found very few incidents where proper bidding procedures were not followed or documentation could not be found, but he says customer service is lacking at the PWSA. Workers in his office tried to contact the authority to get questions answered or complaints taken care of as part of the audit. He points to their effort to get a billing issue taken care of via email. “We sent them and email, three months went by without a response. We sent them an email again and even to this day… they have yet to respond,” says Lamb. Lamb says what makes that situation worse is when you are waiting on the customer service phone line the message tells you to send an email to get help. Lamb says phone calls complaints were treated with only slightly better care. The executive director of the authority acknowledges the customer service problem and asked the controller to make sure that was part of his audit. PWSA Executive Director Michael Kenney says he is working with the board to improve the situation.

The audit also found that there were problems with tracking overdue bills and placing liens on properties. Lamb says that could potentially lead to money not being collected if a delinquent customers moves. He says he feels that issue will be corrected when the P-W-S-A begins using new billing software later this year.

The audit also looked at the controversial line protection insurance offered by the PWSA through a contract with a third party. Many were angered when the new program was put in place. It used an opt-out configuration rather than an opt-in configuration as had been used in the past. Others complained that the contract to offer the insurance was given to a firm with ties to the PWSA’s executive director. Lamb says his audit did not explore those issues but it did look at the quality of the line insurance compared to its price and he says city water customers are getting a good deal.

On the financial side, Lamb says the audit found a few instances where contracts were amended rather than rebid as they should have been and a few instances where bid documents could not be found. He says he does not think any of the incidences were efforts to defraud. The audit recommends that all bid documents be kept in one place in the future and that a check list of needed documents be created to make sure the record keeping is robust.

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