Exploring new frontiers in time and attendance fraud, a group of federal employees and contractors spent one day last summer at a local restaurant followed by an afternoon watching the latest “Star Trek” movie — all at taxpayers’ expense.
The government-funded jaunt was described as a team-building exercise in an anonymous tip sent to the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, which confirmed the complaint.
The employees and contractors work in the Geostationary Operational Satellite-R Series program managed by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the launch of a new generation of weather satellites.
The investigation is ongoing, but Commerce Department Inspector General Todd J. Zinser mentioned it in written testimony to the Senate Thursday detailing a host of other investigative and audit activities.
He said his office found 18 employees and contractors who went to lunch then took in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” as well as a few others who skipped the movie and just went to lunch.
The afternoon was all on government time. But once they learned they were being investigated, the employees went back and changed their attendance records to take personal leave.
Overall, about $3,500 reflecting the cost of staff time for lunch and the movie was returned to the government.
NOAA spokesman John Leslie said the agency holds “employees and contractors to the highest ethical standards.”
“That NOAA office took immediate action in August 2013 and issued guidance proactively to all their employees and contractors that clearly defined what was appropriate work and personal time usage,” he said in an email.
Dave Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, said it’s hard to understand why any employees would need guidance to know that it’s not a good idea to spend hours at work in a movie theater watching Spock and Captain Kirk.
“It’s stunning this would happen months after the government shutdown,” he said. “Taxpayers will be paying their taxes on Tuesday hoping the money goes to what’s important in government, not to employees watching movies.”