Despite repeated complaints that the Department of Homeland Security employees were ripping off a special overtime compensation system, little has been done to correct the problem.
The so-called Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) premium pay system was designed to compensate federal employees for substantial amounts of irregular, unscheduled overtime that cannot be anticipated or contained administratively.
Over the years, it has turned into a cookie jar of sorts for federal workers, with agencies including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) improperly claiming and receiving the premium overtime to boost their overall income. In some cases, supervisors authorized their employees to receive compensation for performing duties that did not qualify for the overtime program, according to reports.
A new Government Accountability Office report this week suggests that while DHS has begun to crack down and is currently developing a department-wide policy to eliminate improper use of the program, the problem still very much persists.
“Some DHS component [agency] policies are not consistent with certain provisions of federal regulations or guidance…. For example, components have not consistently reviewed hours claimed and employee eligibility for AUO.”
Back in January, DHS suspended the overtime program for some employees who work at the headquarters of agencies, full-time training instructors and those found to have improperly received the overtime.
About 95 department employees at facilities in Northern Virginia allegedly increased their pay by 25 percent through overtime abuse, according to the Special Counsel Carolyn N. Lerner. Moreover, she said, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffers, including managers, at the National Targeting Centers in Herndon and Reston, Va., improperly claimed AUO, up to two hours a day, every day, The Washington Post reported.
The massive DHS employs approximately 29,000 workers. Between 2008 and 2013, DHS agencies paid an average of $434 million in AUO annually, mostly to Border Patrol agents. Annual AUO expenditures increased from $307 million in fiscal year 2008 to $512 million in fiscal year 2013, an increase of approximately $205 million. The department spent roughly $500 million on the overtime program in 2014.
The average annual AUO payment per employee increased by a whopping 31 percent, from about $13,000 to about $17,000 between fiscal years 2008 and 2013.
This chart illustrates the growth in the program.
Earlier this year, DHS combined suspensions of AUO payments to certain workers with a requirement that agencies submit plans to address deficiencies. Most agencies subsequently complied with the order, according to GAO. DHS also plans to issue a department-wide directive concerning AUO and to more closely monitor agencies’ implementation of corrective action through its ongoing human resource office assessment every three to four years.
“However, this monitoring is too general and infrequent to effectively monitor or evaluate DHS components' progress,” according to the GAO.
Last week, the House approved the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2013, which would substantially streamline the current pay system for Border Patrol agents and addresses concerns raised by the Office of Special Counsel about the misuse of AUO by the agency.
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