Social Security Administration’s long reviews costly

Punitive timeout or paid R&R?

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The Social Security Administration paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to a handful of employees who were placed on administrative leave for more than half a year while officials considered misconduct accusations against them or their involvement in illegal acts.

The agency’s Office of Inspector General said in a report dated Friday and made public Wednesday that from October 2005 through January 2009, 17 employees each racked up at least 1,000 hours — or 25 weeks — of paid administrative leave totaling $1.5 million while officials considered their cases.

In one instance, two teleservice employees placed on paid administrative leave in February 2007 were arrested at their workplace “while in the act of blackmailing/extorting other SSA employees.”

“One employee remained on paid administrative leave for approximately 6 months (1,136 hours) and the other for approximately 16 months (2,800 hours) before SSA terminated their employment,” investigators said.

The report said that officials could not provide written documentation to justify why the employees together collected more than $70,000 in salary while on leave. It said that in 11 cases, investigators found that the leave was improperly granted or inadequately documented.

Eight employees — one of whom collected more than $200,000 while on paid leave for 16 months — were ultimately fired.

Four employees — including one that collected $185,538 while on leave for 14 months — retired voluntarily.

Three employees, who collected between $50,000 and $70,000 each while on paid leave for at least six months, returned to work.

One case is pending, and another was the result of an administrative error, the report said.

In an August 2006 case, an employee on personal leave requested to be placed on unpaid leave because he had been arrested and jailed for at least 10 days. The manager instead barred the employee from returning to the workplace and placed him on paid administrative leave.

The employee “continued to receive full salary and benefits for 10 months” and was ordered to return to work after the case was reviewed by a different supervisor, investigators said. The employee ultimately resigned.

The 17 employees who each accumulated more than 1,000 hours of paid administrative leave made up 2.5 percent of the total administrative leave hours granted to more than 62,000 Social Security employees, the report said.

Investigators generally complimented the agency in managing paid administrative leave in short-term situations.

It said the Office of Personnel Management has issued no general regulations on paid administrative leave, but that the Government Accountability Office has offered guidance on the subject that suggests that employees not be placed on paid leave for extended periods of time.

Instead, supervisors are authorized to use administrative leave in cases where an incident has occurred on the job and they think the potential for violence exists. Supervisors are expected to process suspensions during investigations of employee wrongdoing.

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