Employees at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security call it the “candy bowl,” a pot of overtime money they have long dipped into to pad their pay even if they haven't earned it, whistleblowers tell the Washington Post. This practice, which can add up to 25 percent to a paycheck, has become so routine over the last generation that it's often held out as a perk when government managers try to recruit new employees. In a report to the White House and Congress, the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) details what it calls a “profound and entrenched problem” at DHS and a “gross waste of government funds.” Based on the testimony of seven whistleblowers, the OSC concludes that the pervasive misuse of overtime pay in six DHS offices, including four within Customs and Border Protection (CBP), comes to $8.7 million a year.
At issue is “Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime,” known as AUO, which is meant only to compensate for urgent and unanticipated work like that often undertaken by law enforcement agents. Carolyn Lerner, OSC special counsel, said many employees across DHS now consider the overtime pay their due. She said the whistleblowers' testimony suggests that the department's bill for these improper payments is running in the tens of millions of dollars a year. “These are not border patrol guys chasing bad guys who can't stop what they are doing and fill out paperwork for overtime. We are not questioning that,” Lerner said. “These are employees sitting at their desks, collecting overtime because it's become a culturally acceptable practice.”