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GAO Improperly Distributed Overtime for Some; New Move to Disclose Federal Bonuses

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The inspector general at the Government Accountability Office reported this week that the watchdog agency improperly spent nearly $80,000 on unscheduled overtime pay for criminal investigators who did not qualify for it, and questioned the need to authorize overtime at all.

In fiscal 2017, GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service employed eight criminal investigators, who conduct some investigative activities for the agency as well as manage its FraudNet hotline. In fiscal 2017, all eight were certified to receive Law Enforcement Availability Pay, a program that authorizes premium pay for federal investigators who are often required to work excessive or unusual hours.

But the agency IG found that the vast majority of the hours authorized for LEAP pay were for overtime availability, rather than hours actually worked. And five of the eight investigators improperly were authorized to receive LEAP pay due to a mistake in how GAO’s timecard system calculated overtime availability needs.

According to the report, GAO spent $149,026 on LEAP pay for the eight investigators in fiscal 2017. But of the 4,973 LEAP hours reported by FAIS, only 21 percent were reported as unscheduled overtime hours actually worked. The remaining 79 percent were classified as “hours available for unscheduled work.” The inspector general found that the agency reported zero hours of scheduled overtime.

Additionally, the inspector general concluded that GAO had been using a faulty formula to determine whether its criminal investigators even qualified for LEAP pay, which requires investigators to maintain an annual average of two or more hours of unscheduled duty hours per workday in the first place.

An apparent software issue caused the agency to include 1,111 hours’ worth of unscheduled work availability that fell on weekends in its LEAP pay calculations. That miscalculation led to GAO issuing a total of $79,603 in improper compensation to five investigators who should not have qualified for the program.

The 1994 LEAP Pay Act authorizes 25 percent premium pay for qualifying federal workers. However, as a result of statutory pay limits, the effective rate for GAO’s investigators ranged from less than 1 percent to 20 percent in fiscal 2017.

The inspector general recommended that GAO reevaluate whether it needs to offer LEAP pay in the first place.

“Our report concluded that GAO may not have a consistent need for investigative work beyond an investigator’s regular workday or week,” the inspector general stated. “We believe that the absence of overtime and the minimal charges to LEAP work hours indicate that the need is minimal.”

The report also suggested that the agency find a way to remedy its LEAP pay calculation problem and to determine whether to cancel the LEAP pay certifications of the five investigators who were erroneously approved for the program, as well as whether to “suspend their entitlement” to premium pay.

Over on Capitol Hill, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., introduced legislation this month to make more aspects of federal compensation available to the public. The Federal Employee Bonus Disclosure Act (H.R. 5290) would make all federal employees’ performance bonuses publicly available and require agencies to issue annual reports on bonuses to Congress.

If enacted, the Office of Personnel Management would be required to publish a list of all performance bonuses, including the awarding agency, the sum of the bonus, as well as the name of the employee that received it.

“As a taxpayer, I like to know what I’m paying for, and that’s a sentiment that I often hear from people at home,” Sanford said in a statement. “Accordingly, it’s bothersome and frustrating that federal performance bonuses are undisclosed. Indeed, in fiscal year 2016, less than 25 percent of the $1.5 billion in bonuses were made public, equating to a $1.1 billion tab for one million performance bonuses.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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