Thursday, October 22, 2015

Some Homeland Security Employees Have Been Paid to Stay Home for Over a Year

WAPO - A year after auditors documented tens of thousands of federal workers on paid leave for at least a month and longer stretches that exceed a year, close to 100 Department of Homeland Security employees still are being paid not to work for more than a year.

The large number persists even after the Obama administration urged agencies in June to curtail their reliance on what is known as administrative leave, the government’s go-to strategy for dealing with employees facing allegations of misconduct.

Now Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who provided the numbers he received from DHS, is demanding answers from agency officials. In a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson Wednesday, he called the officials’ previous explanation for extended leave cases “too broad and vague to assess whether other actions might have been more appropriate.”

Grassley said the agency failed to explain how it was meeting federal guidelines to reserve paid leave for rare circumstances when an employee poses a physical threat in the workplace, or how sidelining employees for so long is consistent with numerous rulings by the comptroller general that federal workers should not be sidelined for long periods for any reason.

“DHS also failed to explain why such extended amounts of time were needed to conduct investigations into security issues, misconduct, or fitness for duty,” Grassley wrote.

DHS was one large agency cited by the Government Accountability Office in October 2014 in the first report on administrative leave. The audit, first made public by The Washington Post, found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months during the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013. About 4,000 of them were idled for three months to a year and several hundred for one to three years.

The tab for these workers exceeded $775 million in salary alone, auditors found. While employees stay home, they not only collect paychecks but also build their pensions, vacation and sick days and move up the federal pay scale.