It's not just contractors who are profiting off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. FBI agents have been trying to rake in extra cash by billing overtime they aren't entitled to, a report released Thursday by the Justice Department's inspector general found.
According to the report, FBI employees in the war zones received an estimated $7.8 million "in excess overtime payments that were not allowable under federal pay statutes, federal regulations, and FBI policies."
The FBI's counterterrorism division "provided incomplete and inaccurate guidance to FBI employees regarding the requirements for claiming overtime, which resulted in abuse of the overtime system," the report found.
FBI management acknowledged the mistake but said that it was developed under difficult circumstances when the country faced an intense national security threat.
"We accept that Headquarters management, in an effort to quickly develop a simple system to compensate FBI employees who volunteered to leave their domestic assignments and serve in war zones, allowed a flawed system to develop and remain in place too long," FBI Assistant Director John Miller said in a statement. It continued: "As the Inspector General's report points out, a system that both fairly recognized employees and complied with pay statutes and other personnel regulations should have been put in place, but wasn't. Over the past year, we have implemented a number of changes and continue to work with the IG."
The report found that the practice derived from the leadership of the FBI's counterterrorism division which "encouraged" or "condoned" employees claiming all waking hours as work. But the OIG report found that FBI employees rarely worked 16 hours a day and that managers allowed employees to claim work for time eating, exercising and socializing. What's more, managers in the counterterrorism division did not consult the human resources division or the office of the general counsel to determine whether these policies were legal, the report stated.
Similar Problems in Afghanistan, Report Finds
While the report focused primarily on Iraq, it also noted that a more limited review "found that similar problems affected FBI time and attendance practices in Afghanistan." It also raised questions about overtime practices overseas with other agencies. Approximately 1,000 FBI employees were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the wars on three-month tours.
The OIG report found several other problems with overtime practice. First, it concluded that the FBI had shifted the formal workweek for employees in Iraq from Sunday to Thursday, allowing them to get additional Sunday pay -- a 25 percent bonus for each regularly scheduled "Sunday work." While FBI regulations allow shifting the work week in certain circumstances, the report found that this situation did not exist in Iraq and accounted for approximately $1.4 million in additional payments between 2003 and 2007.
Second, the report found that FBI special agents incorrectly billed overtime for being on call while they were already receiving a 25 percent premium above their salary for being on call, a bonus known as "availability pay.
While the OIG report noted that the initial lack of initial compliance was understandable in light of the difficult circumstances at the beginning of the war, it noted that the FBI did nothing to change its policies until the OIG investigation began. "The FBI has had 5 years since the Iraq war began to establish lawful overtime procedures, and it failed to do so prior to the initiation of this investigation," the report stated.
Investigators found that the FBI spent approximately $63 million on overtime between 2003 and 2007. But in 2008, the FBI stepped up regulation of its overtime. Based on the difference in hours, the OIG report came up with the estimated $7.8 million figure in excess payments.
Though overtime practices are now more regulated, the inspector general still believes that "FBI employees are still obtaining overtime hours that the law and FBI policy do not allow."