Is DHS Wasting Millions Paying Investigators It Doesn’t Need?

The Homeland Security Department may be wasting millions of dollars annually giving bonus pay to law enforcement officers it does not need, according to a new report.

Customs and Border Protection converted 86 percent of its 212 investigative specialists into criminal investigative positions in 2015, which in turn made the employees eligible for bonus compensation known as Law Enforcement Availability Pay. The agency spent $3.1 million on LEAP for the employees in fiscal 2015, according to the DHS inspector general, but has never assessed whether the conversion was necessary or appropriate. The employees will earn about $23 million in bonus pay over the next five years, the IG said.

CBP initially requested the authority from the DHS secretary to establish an investigations unit to monitor CBP employee misconduct. While CBP asked for the employees staffing the unit to be criminal investigators, the secretary instead authorized the hiring of “investigative program specialists.”

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CBP repeatedly asked for the ability to hire criminal investigators, but only in 2014 did DHS task CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs with conducting investigations into criminal misconduct by the agency’s employees for “those allegations not retained by DHS OIG.”

LEAP compensates law enforcement officers at 25 percent above their base pay for two extra hours per day. LEOs are also eligible to retire sooner and receive more generous annuities from their pensions. Only federal employees who spend a majority of their time investigating, apprehending or detaining criminals qualify as law enforcement officers and are therefore eligible for LEAP compensation. Employees must also average at least two hours of unscheduled duty per day over the course of a year.

The DHS IG said CBP’s human resources team never verified the investigative specialists were actually doing the work that required a conversion to law enforcement positions. In fact, the auditors said CBP wrote the position description specifically to match Office of Personnel Management guidance on duties that qualify for that classification.

Additionally, the IG said, CBP never determined what staffing levels it would need. Instead of making “data-driven justifications,” CBP relied on “subjective” analysis.

Between October 2010 and March 12, 2015, CBP’s internal affairs office conducted investigations in more than 6,500 allegations of employee misconduct, or 57 percent of all purported wrongdoing. Just 13 percent of those involved criminal activity, however. The IG estimated CBP’s new criminal investigators were each involved in just two or three criminal misconduct cases annually.

Even those data are shoddy, the IG said, as CBP does not have a tool to measure how investigators spend their time. 

“CBP does not collect or maintain sufficient data to perform a comprehensive workload analysis,” the auditors wrote to explain CBP’s subjective decision making. “Furthermore, data captured from investigations of employee misconduct is not always reliable or easily retrievable, which makes it difficult for CBP to conduct analyses of investigative data and make informed decisions.”

The IG recommended CBP review its job descriptions to ensure positions are properly classified and match what its investigators are actually doing. The auditors also said the agency should use its analysis to determine the appropriate staffing levels and adjust its workforce to reflect that result.

CBP agreed with the IG’s recommendations, but said the report was unnecessary as the agency has already initiated a self-review. Certain determinations had not yet been made, CBP said, as the conversion was “still in its infancy.” The IG defended its audit as appropriately proactive.

CBP further said the dollar estimates were off base -- calling the IG’s estimates “nonsensical” -- as the agency was already paying its program specialists administratively uncontrollable overtime. The IG said CBP still does not know how many employees it needs to convert, adding the agency is incapable of justifying its prior use of the special overtime pay anyway.

The disagreements may be in part explained by internal strife between CBP and the IG’s office over which entity holds primary investigative responsibility.

“There has been an ongoing debate concerning the roles and responsibilities between CBP and OIG,” the auditors conceded. 

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