Homeland Security Employees Claim Overtime for Doing Nothing

Monday, November 04, 2013
(AP Photo)

Overtime has become a form of entitlement at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with some employees padding their paychecks by 25% with extra pay for work they don’t necessarily perform.


Workers refer to overtime pay as a “candy bowl,” according to seven whistleblowers who talked to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).


Based on the testimony of those whistleblowers, OSC submitted a report (pdf) to the White House and Congress saying overtime has become a “profound and entrenched problem” at DHS and a “gross waste of government funds.”


It is estimated that the department blows $8.7 million annually from the “pervasive misuse of overtime pay in six DHS offices, including four within Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” Emily Wax-Thibodeaux wrote at The Washington Post.


“Employees will sit at their desks for an extra two hours, catching up on Netflix, talking to friends or using it for commuting time,” whistleblower and Virginia-based CBP supervisor Ducos Bello told the Post. “It’s pickpocketing Uncle Sam. It was such misuse that I felt I had a legal obligation to report. I will sleep better at night.”


Some managers even use the abundance of overtime given out as a way to recruit new employees to join the department.


Carolyn Lerner, special counsel at the OSC, told the Post that many DHS employees consider overtime pay their due.


“These are not border patrol guys chasing bad guys who can’t stop what they are doing and fill out paperwork for overtime. We are not questioning that,” Lerner said. “These are employees sitting at their desks, collecting overtime because it’s become a culturally acceptable practice.”


Lerner said that CBP was warned in 2008 about abuse of overtime rules. “The lack of progress in implementing plans first outlined five years ago raises questions about the agency’s willingness or ability to confront this important problem,” she told the Post.


DHS is now conducting a review of overtime practices to determine if they comply with federal laws and regulations.


Meanwhile, CBP’s assistant commissioner for internal affairs, James F. Tomsheck, responded to the OSC report by promising that his agency would show its employees an instructional video about proper use of overtime billing.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Homeland Security Workers Routinely Boost Pay with Unearned Overtime, Report Says (by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Washington Post)

A Lot of Homeland Security Employees Are Fudging Their Timesheets (by Brian Feldman, Atlantic Wire)

OSC Report to the President (Office of Special Counsel) (pdf)


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