The Department of Homeland Security saved more than $83 million last year thanks to new reforms put in place after whistleblowers exposed widespread abuse of the agency’s federal overtime, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
Over the past two years, nearly a dozen government workers came forward alleging that employees with the Customs and Border Patrol were blatantly abusing a special overtime fund intended to compensate Border Patrol agents who unexpectedly have to clock in to respond to emergencies.
Those allegations triggered an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, who discovered that the abuse of the “administratively uncontrollable overtime” (AUO) fund was deeply entrenched in the agency’s culture. Lerner’s probe found that at one facility in Northern Virginia, about 95 percent of workers were using the fund to bump up their pay by 25 percent.
As The Fiscal Times previously reported, DHS agencies paid an average of $434 million from this fund every year between 2008 and 2013, with most of that money going to Border Patrol agents. The department spent about $500 million from the overtime fund last year.
The shocking results of the investigation, along with several wrist-slapping sessions at Congressional hearings, prompted the DHS to make reforms to its overtime policies. Congress also passed a bill requiring stricter overtime policies. DHS also removed some employees’ eligibility for the AUO payments, including employees who work at the headquarters in D.C. and fitness instructors. This has already saved the CBP about $3.2 million a week.
In a memo sent to President Obama on Thursday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel Lerner said the reforms will save an estimated $100 million a year, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
“I applaud the government’s collective response to the long-standing problem of overtime pay abuse through the AUO system. After years of inaction, the entrenched AUO problem is now on a path toward resolution,” Lerner said. “It’s important to recognize that if the whistleblowers had not stepped forward, this waste of taxpayer funds would never have been corrected.”
The savings realized because of whistleblower complaints come at a time when the federal government is under scrutiny for the way it treats whistleblowers.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Justice Department is largely failing to protect its whistleblowers from retaliation. The report even goes so far as to suggest that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has an intentionally complicated reporting process to make it hard for whistleblowers to come forward without facing retaliation.
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