- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2015

Doing something wrong doesn’t usually result in reward, unless of course, you work in Washington.

The latest inexplicable example of rewarding bad behavior emerged Thursday when it was revealed in a new watchdog report that several Drug Enforcement Administration agents who participated in sex parties with prostitutes received tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses, time off and other favorable personnel actions despite federal regulations barring them from receiving such perks.

The allegations of sexual misconduct were first raised in a March 2015 report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, which found DEA officials in Colombia had helped to arrange “sex parties” with prostitutes funded by local drug cartels hosted at their government-leased quarters.

Following that report, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked the inspector general to determine whether any promotions, bonuses, awards or new job assignments had been given to the 14 DEA personnel involved in the incidents of sexual misconduct laid out in the report.

On Thursday Justice released the results of that review: Investigators found there were 20 award requests made in connection to the 14 individuals involved in the sexual misconduct described in the March report.

“Although none of the 14 individuals received promotions, we found that in 10 instances, 8 employees received bonuses, awards, or other favorable personnel actions, contrary to DEA policy,” the report reads. None of the employees received promotions.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Chaffetz blasted the agency for giving such awards to employees who “should have been prosecuted, fired, or at a minimum, severely disciplined for their misconduct.”

“Rewarding bad apples promotes a toxic work environment,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “It destroys morale and is a disservice to the majority of hard-working federal employees who play by the rules. It is a disgrace that taxpayer dollars are being wasted on those who violate our trust and abuse their positions. If we want a culture of excellence in the federal workforce, we must penalize bad behavior and reward merit.”

For using taxpayer dollars to reward employees instead of punishing them, DEA wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful spending.

“The DEA should come clean on its entire bonus structure by calling it the Charlie Sheen Award sponsored by Viagra,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, a spending watchdog.

“Is it any wonder that the average American taxpayer is disgusted with Washington, D.C.? This is just outrageous,” said Leslie Paige, vice president for policy and communications at the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste.

“Giving out perks to folks who engaged in misconduct is the height of absurdity. The only thing these employees should have been provided was a pink slip. What kind of incentive is it for upstanding employees to remain that way when toxic workers receive rewards?” Ms. Paige said.

The report listed some of the types of awards the agents received.

Specifically, three employees involved in specific allegations of organizing sex parties received performance awards ranging between $1,500 to almost $32,000.

One of those employees, a regional director named as a subject in an OPR investigation, received four performance awards, three Senior Executive Service bonus awards and one SES Meritorious Executive Rank award over a four-year period totaling approximately $68,600, according to the report.

Another agent received two awards, one monetary and one time off award of 40 hours, during the three-year period of ineligibility after he served a 10-day suspension as a result of misconduct he committed.

A supervisory special agent was awarded $2,000 just two months after being named the subject of an OPR investigation, according to the report. That agent later received several other awards, bringing the total to $8,400.

All eight employees who received awards were subjects in an ongoing Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigation in which the offenses involved integrity and/or sexual harassment issues, with some of the employees serving as supervisors and managers.

According to the report, DEA policy prohibits employees from receiving promotions or bonuses for at least three years after being subject to discipline for a significant misconduct or while a misconduct investigation is pending, unless a specific approved exception is granted.

Investigators wrote that they were unable to determine why exceptions were made to allow the employees to receive such bonuses and benefits, or whether or not an integrity check was performed. In several cases there was no documentation to explain the basis for going forward with the awards.

Watchdog groups said the report was not only an outrageous affront to taxpayers but a major discouragement for upstanding federal employees who work hard to receive such rewards.

“It is a slap in the face to the thousands of agents who do it right to see their colleagues who embarrassed the agency given accolades and performance-based cash,” Mr. Manning said.

“Taxpayers should be the first in line to receive some answers, because they are ultimately the employer, not some federal human resource manager. But conscientious federal employees ought to be close behind in that line. After all, this is not just a fiscal issue, it’s a moral issue,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

“What kind of message does this send to federal workers who put in the sweat equity to earn bonuses and other awards? Rules are made to be broken, on behalf of people accused of breaking rules themselves,” Mr. Sepp said.

Investigators made two recommendations to the DEA, urging them to follow their own policies in completing performance and integrity checks before issuing perks.

In its response to the report, the DEA said it is “not in full control of ‘when’ bonuses and awards are provided to nominated recipients,” and pointed out that any award recommendation, once approved by the DEA, must also go through a DOJ process before being granted.

“Regrettably, between the time of an initial integrity check and when DOJ issues the monetary award payment, some type of misconduct may have occurred,” the DEA said in its response.

Mr. Chaffetz said his committee is now working on a package of personnel reforms that will “correct this misguided and unjust system.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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