Department of Homeland Security employees have been accused of padding their weekly wages by claiming excessive amounts of overtime at offices in northern Virginia.
According to the Office of Special Counsel, about 95 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffers, including managers, at the National Targeting Centers in Herndon and Reston, Va., increased their pay by 25 percent through overtime abuse
, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
In testimony prepared for a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said staff members "improperly claim AUO up to two hours a day, every day."
The acronym AUO stands for administratively uncontrollable overtime, which can only be used for unpredictable work beyond an employee’s normal shift, Lerner said.
And investigation was already underway in Lerner's office into allegations made by whistleblowers that Homeland staffers abuse an overtime payment account known within the department as the "candy bowl." The Senate Homeland Security panel's workforce subcommittee is also investigating.
In a statement planned for the hearing, the subcommittee's Democratic chairman, Jon Tester of Montana, noted that a report from Lerner last year to President Barack Obama revealed that staffers from multiple DHS agencies regularly abused the overtime payment system.
Tester said that Lerner's report found that in the CBP Commissioner’s Situation Room in Washington, employees billed overtime for "even watching TV or surfing the Internet."
"We all greatly appreciate the work being done by the men and women at DHS," Tester said. "However, the employee actions and misuse of public funds outlined in [Lerner's] report are unacceptable."
At the hearing Lerner planned to unveil six new cases under investigation by DHS, apart from the Virginia cases, including alleged overtime abuses in El Centro, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Chattanooga, Tenn.
Catherine Emerson, chief personnel officer for DHS, and Ron Vittiello, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, also said in their testimony that "a number of internal investigations are being conducted" into overtime abuse, according to the Post. They noted that DHS executives have now set limits on the amount of overtime hours that can be claimed and are "studying additional measures" that can be taken to curb abuse.
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