The chairman of a U.S. House Oversight subcommittee said he is supporting increased spending on internal government auditors, in the wake of a News4 I-Team investigation.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said federal inspectors general are in need of “additional resources” to help prevent waste, fraud and abuse in federal programs.
“As a fiscal conservative, it’s difficult for me to say, but as we look at inspectors general, allowing them to be able to do their job,” Meadows said. “It’s one that holds people accountable.”
Rep. Meadows oversees internal government investigations for the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressman commented publicly after watching a News4 I-Team investigation, showing federal inspector general agents have caught at least 60 federal workers cheating on time sheets or skipping out of work without permission since 2012. In all, the time sheet and attendance fraud has cost taxpayers more than $1 million in the past three years.
Rep. Meadows announced Wednesday he is inviting federal workers to anonymously report other cases of time and attendance fraud of colleagues by emailing a tip line he established.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) also publicly announced support for increased spending on inspectors general because of the I-Team report.
“It is fiscal malpractice to starve inspectors general of the resources they need to expose waste and fraud in the federal government," Van Hollen said. "This is emblematic of the larger problem of sequester cuts.”
Some of those federal employees were golfing, gambling or traveling during time periods in which they claimed to be on the job. The cases involve employees at more than a dozen federal agencies and have triggered federal criminal prosecutions in the D.C.-area.
In some instances, the schemes were bold and daring. Valtina Pierce, a federal employee who pleaded guilty in May to fraud for doctoring her time sheet, worked as a time sheet manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offices in Washington, D.C.
Pierce acknowledged doctoring her time sheet over a two-year span, including making 100 adjustments during a single time period. She accepted more than $15,000 in salary for work hours she never performed, according to prosecutors. A judge sentenced Pierce to jail time and ordered her to undergo substance abuse treatment.
In a separate incident, at least one Maryland employee of the U.S. General Services Administration sent emails to colleagues admitting he was using “slick” time to play golf during hours in which he should’ve been working.
The I-Team’s investigation found 17 cases of “time-and-attendance fraud” at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs since 2012. The U.S. Commerce Department had 13 such cases in the same time frame. The Tennessee Valley Authority, Department of Energy, Department of Treasury, Smithsonian Institution, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Transportation suffered a combined 26 “time-and-attendance fraud cases,” the I-Team found.
A jury convicted Herman Ransom (below), a $129,000-a-year executive with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, of accepting pay for hours he did not work. Ransom was gambling and golfing during hours in which he did not have permission to be out of the office, federal prosecutors said.
In perhaps the most striking and highest profile case of “no-show” government employees, high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency official John Beale pleaded guilty to a long-running scheme in which he cheated taxpayers for almost $900,000. Federal prosecutors said Beale claimed to be working on a project for the Central Intelligence Agency that required him to frequently be out of his office at EPA headquarters. Beale was not an CIA employee but made off with approximately 2½ years of salary and benefits while absent from his duties, operating his scheme. Beale is serving a prison sentence at the federal penitentiary in Cumberland, Maryland, until June 2016.
The EPA Inspector General, an internal watchdog of the agency, investigated the cases against Beale and Pierce. Inspector General investigator Allan Williams said it’s important for government agencies to put proper controls in place to minimize the risk of “no-show” workers. Williams said, “In a number of our investigations, had the manager or the timekeeper done their due diligence, then they could’ve prevented this from going further.”
Tips from other government workers are often needed and used to unearth “time-and-attendance fraud” schemes, according to Williams. A tip to the EPA Inspector General’s hotline helped flag the case of Valtina Pierce.
“It’s a small fraction of government workers that are dishonest people,” Williams said. “But having said that, I think we might’ve just reached the tip of the iceberg.”
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General spokeswoman said the agency had not found any cases of “time-and-attendance fraud” at the agency since 2012. A spokeswoman for the NASA Inspector General declined to answer specific questions about investigations into attendance fraud.
David Williams, director of the D.C.-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance, said federal inspectors general, who police and root out “time-and-attendance fraud,” should receive budget increases to better do so. Williams said every dollar spent on a federal inspector general’s office has the potential of saving $12 to $20, in eliminated waste and fraud. “Government agencies aren’t going to police themselves,” Williams said. “That’s why they need an internal watchdog, and that’s the Inspector General.”
Due to recent federal budget cuts, including those ordered under sequestration, more than a dozen federal inspectors general reported hiring freezes or reductions in travel and training, according to the I-Team’s review.
An EPA spokeswoman said, “EPA shares the goal of the Office of the Inspector General of preventing and correcting any waste, fraud or abuse in any agency programs or operations. The EPA has risen to the challenge with steady action, and has taken steps to put measures in place to help ensure this type of fraud cannot be repeated.”
Federal Inspectors General (since 2013)
Travel or Training Reductions:
- Dept. of Homeland Security Inspector General
- Dept. of Energy Inspector General
- EPA Inspector General
- Housing and Urban Development Inspector General
- Dept. of State Inspector General
Hiring Freeze or Attrition:
- Dept. of Defense Inspector General
- General Services Administration Inspector General
- Dept. of Education Inspector General
- Health and Human Services Inspector General