Halloween may be over, but some employees at the Department of Homeland Security are still dipping their hands into their so-called “candy bowl,” an agency-wide nickname for a routinely abused fund of overtime money.
Workers have stolen about $8.7 million from it each year by claiming unearned overtime from the Administratively Uncontrolled Overtime fund. The fund is supposed to be used when employees, like border patrol agents, work overtime to respond to emergencies, according to a new report by the Office of Special Counsel which was submitted to the White House and Congress.
The OSC called the abuse a “profound and entrenched problem” within the department and said it found that six different offices had abused the fund including four within Customs and Border Protection, The Washington Post reported.
The abuse is so typical that whistleblowers say some employees routinely claim more than their “straight eight,” with two hours of overtime every day. Some employees have used the fund to boost their pay by up to 25 percent each year without actually working overtime. Government managers even use the “candy bowl” as a perk to recruit new employees.
“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,” Caroly Lerner, special counsel at the OSC told The Post. “These are employees sitting at their desks, collecting overtime because it’s become a culturally acceptable practice.”
One of the whistleblowers that sparked the investigation, Jose Rafael Ducos Bello, a former supervisor for Customs and Border Protection, told The Post that he thinks at least 27 employees at the Commissioner’s Situation Room within the CBP, increased their pay by a collective $696,000.
“It’s pickpocketing Uncle Sam,” Ducos Bello said. “Employees will sit at their desks for an extra two hours, catching up on Netflix, talking to friends or using it for commuting time.”
In response to the report, DHS officials said that abuse of the funds would not be tolerated and they are ordering a department-wide review of how the funds are used.
“DHS takes seriously its responsibility to ensure proper use of taxpayer funds,” said spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement. “While many frontline officers and agents across the department require work hour flexibility, often through the use of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO), misuse of these funds is not tolerated.”
However, the same problem was uncovered five years ago when two CBP offices in Washington State were taking unearned money from the fund. At the time, the agency had assured the special council’s office that it would end the abuse.
"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,” Lerner said in a letter to the White House on Thursday.
This isn’t the only abuse of taxpayer dollars discovered at the DHS.
Earlier reports show a spate of abuses that have undermined the trust taxpayers have in the department, which has wasted millions of dollars.
Here is just a sample of the abuses: