Nam Y. Huh / AP

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Five Years After Congressional Action, TSA Still at Risk of Erroneously Providing Premium Pay

TSA not certifying those who qualify for special law enforcement pay actually deserve it.

The Transportation Security Administration may still be overpaying employees they incorrectly deemed law enforcement personnel, according to a new report, despite Congress passing a law five years ago to address the issue. 

Some employees in TSA’s Office of Inspection—which oversees TSA’s workforce, management and operations to ensure their integrity and effectiveness—qualify as law enforcement officers and therefore earn law enforcement availability pay. LEAP compensates law enforcement officers at 25% above their basic pay due to the large amount of overtime the employees work. Those officers are also eligible to retire sooner and receive more generous annuities from their pensions.

Employees must spend at least 50% of their time, on average, performing criminal investigative duties to qualify as a law enforcement officer. They must meet specific qualifications, the IG said, such as being “young and physically vigorous individuals.” At TSA’s inspection office, employees who are valid law enforcement officers investigate allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct by employees and contractors, look into potential fraud, provide polygraph services and offer forensic computer analysis. 

The Homeland Security Department inspector general found in a 2013 report the office was deeming unqualified employees as criminal investigators, which could have cost the agency $17.5 million over five years. That led Congress to pass the 2015 TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act, which directed the IG to review how the agency determines who qualifies as a law enforcement officer and recommend who should be reclassified. 

The IG found in a new report TSA instituted appropriate methods for determining which Office of Inspection employees qualified as criminal investigators, but the data it used “were not adequate or valid.” Three-quarters of the office’s criminal investigators, for example, did not consistently track how much time they spent in investigative activities. Those employees, as well as their supervisors, were failing to fill out a required form certifying they were eligible for premium pay. 

“Without better oversight and adequate and valid timesheet data, TSA cannot ensure it is accurately classifying criminal investigators as law enforcement officers,” the IG said. The auditors added the agency “may be wasting agency funds on criminal investigators not eligible to receive premium pay.”

Specifically, the IG found investigators submitted timesheets late, with inconsistencies and that erroneously attributed time worked to already closed cases. Supervisors were also late to approve timesheets—by as much as 244 days—which the IG said raised concerns about whether the manager could ensure the accuracy of the employee’s submission. The auditors identified some cases in which investigators’ unscheduled hours were exaggerated in the agency’s tracking system. They also found individuals who should not have obtained permission had access to that system. 

TSA relies exclusively on timesheet data for determining who qualifies as a law enforcement officer. 

“TSA could not demonstrate that its criminal investigators met the criteria for LEAP eligibility,” the IG said. 

The auditors told TSA it should hold criminal investigators responsible for submitting accurate timesheets in a timely fashion by making it part of their performance plans. They recommended the agency provide guidance for supervisors to approve those timesheets and ensure managers and employees submit required forms certifying LEAP eligibility. TSA should also improve its systems that track employee hours and law enforcement activity, the IG said. 

TSA agreed to implement all of the IG’s proposed changes and said the agency had already been working on implementing them prior to the report.