According to whistleblowers in a report submitted to the White House and Congress by the Office of Special Counsel, employees of the Department of Homeland Security are routinely claiming overtime they did not actually work—widespread behavior which is costing the department millions of dollars a year and letting workers inflate their paychecks by up to 25 percent.
The added hours fall under Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, which is the kind of work that arises when an emergency or other unforeseen circumstances occur. AUO "is intended to be used only when an employee's hours cannot be scheduled in advance due to a substantial amount of irregular work."
Employees have apparently been claiming AUO for years, to the tune of $8.7 million annually, and the letter states that, "Despite this definition, thousands of DHS employees routinely file for AUO, claiming up to two hours a day, nearly every day, even in headquarters and training assignments where no qualifying circumstances are likely to exist."
Carolyn Lerner, special counsel at the OSC, told The Washington Post, "These are employees sitting at their desks, collecting overtime because it’s become a culturally acceptable practice," and such abuses have been reported to the OSC since at least 2008. According to the letter, roughly a quarter of the 2013 report is identical to a similar report filed in 2008 concerning AUO abuses. Many of the whistleblowers cited work for the Customs and Border Protection sector or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The policy is supposedly so entrenched in certain circles that it is used a practical given when recruiting employees to work for the DHS. An internal affairs commissioner for the CBP said that it would work to make clear the AUO policy, and show all employees a video on the subject.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.