Report: DHS abusing overtime pay

Employees in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have long been abusing overtime pay, costing taxpayers millions of dollars annually, according to a report by a government investigator.

The U.S. Office of Special Council on Thursday sent a report to Congress detailing a number of cases in which employees collected nearly $8.7 million in overtime pay while sometimes doing nothing more than watching “sports and entertainment" channels on TV. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Employees have been abusing an overtime program known as Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, which is meant to be used only for overtime not scheduled in advance because of law enforcement’s irregular schedule. 

The government investigator said collecting overtime pay in the DHS is a “long-standing abuse” and has become a “persistent pattern.” 

The agency sent the report to members of Congress and President Obama asking them to come up with a revised pay system. 

“Such abuse of overtime pay is a violation of the public trust and 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,” special council Carolyn Lerner said in a letter accompanying the report. 

One specific instance in the report details abuse at the Commissioner’s Situation Room in the Customs and Border Protection Washington, D.C., office. Department employees assigned themselves two extra hours of work 89 percent of the time in that division. 

According to one whistle-blower “employees who ‘work’ overtime frequently watch sports and entertainment channels during their claimed AUO periods, or spend the two additional hours at their duty station relaxing, joking, surfing the Internet and taking care of personal matters.”

The report details abuse going back to 2008 detailed then in a separate report. The investigator said a lack of progress has been made since 2008 and raises questions about whether the department is willing to confront the problem. 

The report also details abuse in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Washington, Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston, and Custom and Border Protection offices in Georgia, California and Texas. 

A DHS spokesman told The Washington Post that acting Secretary Rand Beers has ordered a department-wide review of the overtime policy in reaction to the report. 

The Post first reported on the DHS overtime abuse.