Federal Employees News Digest

Special Counsel finds DHS overtime abuse

The Office of Special Counsel has verified allegations that many employees at the Department of Homeland Security improperly claim administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO) on a regular basis.

OSC assembled details of the AUO abuse in the course of investigating six whistleblower cases. While OSC said the total cost of the abuse throughout the department is unknown, it found improper AUO claims of $8.7 million a year at just the six DHS offices identified by whistleblowers.

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner called for the administration to address the problem in an Oct. 31 letter to President Obama.

“Such abuse of overtime pay is a violation of public trust and a gross waste of scarce government funds,” Lerner wrote. “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."

AUO can be claimed under certain situations in which employees—such as border patrol agents—must continue stay on duty even when it entails working beyond normal hours. Under the rules, AUO is meant to be limited to “irregular” or “occasional” circumstances when failure to stay on duty would be considered negligent, as when a border patrol agent is in the middle of responding to criminal activity.

To head off abuse of the overtime, the head of one DHS component, Customs and Border Protection, issued a memo in 2012 to emphasize the "occasional" nature of this kind of overtime.

But OSC said thousands of DHS employees file for AUO on a regular basis. Some employees claim up to two hours a day—even in headquarters and training assignments where no qualifying circumstances are likely to exist.

'Ongoing and pervasive'

"A whistleblower at the CBP Office of Training and Development in Glynco, GA, alleged that agents routinely abuse AUO by claiming two hours of AUO daily while failing to perform any qualifying duties," Lerner's letter stated. "The fact that AUO is claimed at a training facility — where compelling law enforcement reasons for staying on duty are unlikely to arise — raises concerns about the propriety of its use by these employees."

Lerner said OSC has closed one whistleblower case, and the other five are ongoing.

The now-closed case involved employees in the commissioner's situation room at CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C., where employees doing mostly administrative work claimed two hours of AUO following their assigned shift 89 percent of the time.

In addition to the case at Glynco, other active whistleblower cases involve CBP offices in Texas and California; an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Texas; and an office at Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"These additional cases indicate that AUO problems are ongoing and pervasive throughout DHS," Lerner wrote.

See the letter at: www.osc.gov/FY2014/14-1%20DI-13-0002/14-1%20DI-13-0002%20-%20Letter%20to%20the%20President.pdf.

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