Border Patrol agents frequently used administratively uncontrollable overtime prior to a policy change.

Border Patrol agents frequently used administratively uncontrollable overtime prior to a policy change. Donna Burton/CBP file photo

Whistleblowers Help Save Nearly $100M Through Flagging Overtime Abuses at DHS

Department should continue to identify employees misusing the system, independent agency advises.

Outcry from whistleblowers has prompted real change at the Homeland Security Department in recent months, according to a new report, which found changes in overtime policy led to nearly $84 million in savings in 2014.

DHS has de-authorized the use of “administratively uncontrollable overtime” for 2,300 employees since reports of its abuse first surfaced in 2013, the Office of Special Council said in a letter to President Obama Wednesday. This category of overtime was bonus pay for those who must work more than their scheduled hours in an unpredictable way.

More than 2,000 of the employees affected by the policy change worked at Customs and Border Protection. CBP employees, such as Border Patrol agents, frequently work shifts that end when they finish pursuing criminals, rather than at a set time. A 2013 OSC report, however, found many headquarters employees working normal hours were also claiming AUO while others were simply abusing it. These findings only came to light after more than a dozen whistleblowers came to OSC, the agency wrote in the letter.

The initial OSC report created uproar in Congress, and last year Obama signed the Border Patrol Pay Reform Act. The law aims to “dramatically simplify” compensation for CBP employees by doing away with AUO in favor of a more structured pay system.

The law allows Border Patrol agents to choose to work 100, 90 or 80 hours per two-week pay period. Employees who choose the 100-hour option will be paid 1.25 times their normal base pay, but will not receive any extra compensation for their overtime hours. Employees opting to work 90 hours per pay period will earn 1.125 times their normal base pay, while those who work 80 hours will simply earn their normal base pay as determined by their General Schedule rank.

Employees who work more than their agreed upon schedule will be rewarded through compensatory time off. The law requires at least 90 percent of employees at each Border Patrol post to choose the 100-hour schedule. If a sufficient number did not volunteer for that option, the agency would force employees into it.

Going forward, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the law will save $100 million annually, in addition to the $83.7 million DHS saved last year before it took effect. DHS is currently finalizing a departmentwide review to ensure lawful overtime compliance at all of its components. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, has decertified three-quarters of the employees previously claiming AUO.

OSC noted in its letter that while ICE’s AUO expenditures were down at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, they picked back up at the end of 2014. The whistleblower advocates said DHS and Congress “may want to determine” the cause of the uptick.

The independent agency called for DHS to use its review to continue to identify any employees still abusing the system, and to carry out the appropriate punishment.

“Moving forward, employees should be held accountable for any deliberate violations of overtime policies,” OSC wrote. “Accountability is the most effective means of deterring future wrongdoing.”

Carolyn Lerner, head of OSC, commended the whistleblowers for their bravery.

“I thank the whistleblowers for their courage in coming forward,” Lerner wrote. “Their disclosures demonstrate their strong commitment to the country’s economic well-being.”