Overtime abuse triggers demand for inquiry

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Friday called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate widespread abuse of overtime pay in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Her request comes a day after the Office of Special Council detailed the abuse of overtime pay in six facilities that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars annually. Given sequestration cuts, Shaheen said it is important to halt any further waste. 

DHS acting Secretary Rand Beers has said he will conduct a department-wide review of the policy. But Shaheen said an independent investigation is necessary as well to sniff out wider abuse throughout the agency. 

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“An independent investigation is necessary for Congress to fully understand the extent to which federal funds have been wasted and institute the reforms necessary to ensure the proper stewardship of scarce resources moving forward,” she said in a letter requesting the review. 

On Thursday, the Special Council’s office sent a report to Congress and the president detailing six 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. 

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. 

However, many administrative and training employees — who likely do not qualify for the program — have regularly used the system.

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

The report reveals 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.

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

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.”