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EDITORIAL HOTLINE RED HERRING TAKING FRAUD CALLS IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR ACTION.

ANY effort to reduce waste and fraud in government gets our nod. And the 24-hour, independent fraud hotline set up last week by Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick deserves credit for being an important part of the effort to make government work better and be more accountable.

Chick estimates that anonymous calls to the hotline could help the city identify millions of dollars that are wasted or stolen.

Compiling tips about possible fraud and waste of public funds is a praiseworthy goal, but knowing about a problem doesn't automatically mean it gets fixed. Indeed, the city has consistently had trouble acting to thwart waste and fraud despite it being plain as day.

That's because civil-service rules protect the violators better than the public. City Hall has trouble firing employees who don't do their jobs or who even steal from the city, and it's taken more than a decade -- and a fortune in civil-suit settlements -- to get officials to do something about widespread hazing and discrimination in the Fire Department.

The concern about Chick's hotline is that it will have the same fate as Los Angeles County's, which has been around for nearly two decades. Yet reports of fraud keep going up. Now there's suspicion that fraud by employees and those on public assistance accounts for as much as 10 percent of the county's annual operating budget, or about $2 billion a year.

By itself, a whistle-blower hotline is just a red herring. Unless the city couples that with action, all the tips in the world won't end the abuse of government funds.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 21, 2007
Words:263
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