- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Homeland Security Department continues to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars a year in overtime to its employees without being sure it is justified, despite years of warning that valuable tax money is in danger of being wasted.

The vast majority of the overtime is being spent on overburdened border patrol agents and has been distributed over the years through what is known in bureaucratic parlance as Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) payments that get little review, according to internal audits and reports that have flagged the lax oversight as far back as 2007.

Examples of questionable overtime, nonetheless, keep piling up.

A March 2013 inspection, for instance, found that Homeland’s National Protection and Programs Directorate paid chemical security inspectors about $2 million in AUO in FY 2012 that did not qualify under federal regulations. The agency didn’t even conduct a review of the payments.

The latest Government Accountability Office tally found DHS agencies spent about $512 million on overtime payments in 2013, and $255 million more in the first six months of this year.



The GAO found that DHS still does not have sufficient oversight mechanisms in place to ensure that the agency’s offices are properly implementing overtime policies in accordance with federal regulations.

Additionally, DHS does not have a plan to report to Congress on its progress to fix the problems.

DHS components owe their employees and the pubic assurance that public funds, including those spend on AUO work, are used in a manner consistent with applicable law, regulation, and policy,” David Maurer, the GAO’s Director of Homeland Security and Justice, wrote in a recent report to Congress.

For failing to tighten up a system that has spent billions on overtime over the last decade without adequate safeguards, the Homeland Security Department wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction from The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful or undisciplined government spending.

Homeland officials acknowledge the system is still a work in progress but that significant strides are being made to tighten up its practices.

In November 2013, DHS began suspending the use of AUO, and Secretary Jeh Johnson began de-authorizing AUO for certain employees and positions just weeks after taking office in January 2014.

The department has so far reviewed and de-authorized $16.5 million in AUO payments for 749 employees this year, officials said. And officials say they are cracking down on abusers, both those who file for and approve unnecessary overtime.

DHS takes its responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and uphold the public trust very seriously,” Jim Crumpacker, the agency’s director of the Departmental GAO-OIG Liason Office wrote in a response letter to the report.

DHS senior leadership has also made clear that the Department will not tolerate overtime abuse,” he added. “Along these lines, DHS is taking steps to ensure meaningful discipline for non-compliance, working with others, such as the DHS Office of Inspector General, as appropriate.”

As far back as seven years ago, internal and external DHS watchdogs have found that employees were improperly claiming and receiving AUO payments when they did not qualify for them, and their supervisors were knowingly approving the payments.

DHS employees are available for AUO when performing duties that cannot be controlled on an hourly basis, these typically include responsibilities of criminal investigators, whose hours of duty are dependent upon the behavior of criminals or suspected criminals.

“Specifically these responsibilities may include shadowing suspects, working incognito among those under suspicion, searching for evidence, meeting informers, making arrests, and interviewing persons having knowledge of criminal or alleged criminal activities,” the GAO explained.

Generally these responsibilities apply to Border Patrol Agents or Secret Service. In fact, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol makes up about 77 percent of DHS‘ AUO payments, with Border Patrol employees receiving about $394 million of the $512 million spent in 2013.

Because of the high potential for abuse, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has strongly urged DHS to conduct independent reviews of AUO payments at least once every five years, but “most components have not regularly conducted AUO authorization reviews,” GAO investigators wrote in the recent report, flagging continued poor oversight.

DHS says it hopes to have a new AUO policy finalized and implemented by June 30, 2015, nearly eight years after the first warning signs were flagged.

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