Federal whistleblowers have alerted the White House to what they say is a “gross waste of government funds” by Department of Homeland Security agents, the likes of which has cost the United States approximately $8.7 million a year.
The US Office of Special Counsel sent a report to President Barack Obama on Thursday, and in it are allegations of alleged overtime abuse being committed by federal workers and on the tax payers’ dime at no fewer than six DHS offices across the country.
According to the complaint, DHS employees are routinely working hours on the clock while earning pay through the federal Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime program, or AUO. Employees can earn as much as 25 percent extra while working AUO, but are only permitted to do so when their hours cannot be scheduled in advance due to a substantial amount of irregular work.
“Despite this definition,” Special Counsel Carloyn N. Lerner wrote to the White House, “thousands of DHS employees routinely file for AUO, claiming up to two hours a day, nearly every day, even in headquarters and training assignments where no qualifying circumstances are likely to exist.”
Lerner added that seven whistleblowers have alerted the Special Counsel’s Office of instances that leaves her to believe there’s been a “pervasive misuse of overtime pay” at half-a-dozen DHS officers throughout the US.
The instances of overtime abuse are not overly egregious, Lerner suggested, but nonetheless represent the rampant and unwarranted waste of taxpayer money.
“These are not border patrol guys chasing bad guys who can’t stop what they are doing and fill out paperwork for overtime. We are not questioning that,” Lerner told the Washington Post. “These are employees sitting at their desks, collecting overtime because it’s become a culturally acceptable practice.”
Jose Rafael Ducos Bello, one of the seven whistleblowers who spoke up to Lerner’s office, told the Post that AUO abuse amounts to “pickpocketing Uncle Sam” of millions of dollars annually.
“Employees will sit at their desks for an extra two hours, catching up on Netflix, talking to friends or using it for commuting time,” said Ducos-Bello, a 24-year veteran of the federal workforce.
Those employees, according to the complaint, work for DHS offices throughout the US, including four within Customs and Border Protection. Ducos-Bello told the Post that he estimated that 27 employees in the Commissioner’s Situation Room, which is part of CBP, cost the country a total of $696,000 in unwarranted AUO pay.
“It was such misuse that I felt I had a legal obligation to report. I will sleep better at night,” he added to the Post. “It’s like a father who has a son who commits a crime and has to report it for the health of their child’s future.”
Lerner said “Such abuse of overtime pay is a violation of the public trust and a gross waste of scarce government funds. It is incumbent upon DHS to take effective steps to curb the abuse. It is up to the administration and Congress to develop a revised pay system, if warranted, that ensures fair compensation for employees who are legitimately working overtime.”
Other offices included in the complaint are The Office of Security and Integrity at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Washington, DC and a Houston, Texas facility used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesperson for DHS, told the Associated Press that his agency “takes seriously its responsibility to ensure proper use of taxpayer fund” and acknowledged that Acting DHS Secretary Rand Beers has requested a “comprehensive, department-wide review” of the AUO program.