ATF broke law with agent pay, Biden says in watchdog letter


ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) police officers are seen outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 25, 2022.

Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for years illegally overpaid up to $20 million to officers and investigators who worked in non-enforcement positions of the law by mislabeling them as law enforcement positions, a government the investigator said Tuesday.

THE United States Office of Special Advocateswho exposed the mismanagement, said he alerted President Joe Biden and Congress to “substantial waste, mismanagement and illegal employment practices” involving high-level jobs at ATF.

The Office of Special Counsel said that during a five-year period officials investigated, 108 ATF employees who worked in non-law enforcement jobs “were inappropriate Law Enforcement Standby Pay (LEAP) and enhanced retirement benefits”.

The roughly $20 million allegedly overpaid “could be much higher given that illegal job classifications were a common practice at the ATF for much longer than the five-year period investigated by investigators,” said said the OSC. This period was from 2016 to 2021.

ATF’s media affairs office had no immediate comment on the OSC report when contacted by CNBC. In its official response to OSC, the ATF disputed claims that some of the positions were misclassified.

The investigation was prompted by two whistleblowers from the ATF’s human resources department who alerted officials to the practice involving “gross waste of funds” and “gross mismanagement,” the letter said. CSO to Biden.

The letter said whistleblowers claimed the agency had a long-standing policy of aiding the careers of special agents and industry operations investigators by systematically misclassifying high-level, unrelated jobs. law enforcement and filling “those coveted jobs, mostly supervisory, with only special agents or “those kind of investigators.

After the OSC verified the allegations, the watchdog referred the allegations to the ATF, which instead of conducting an internal investigation deferred to a then-ongoing audit by the Office of Personnel Management, which manages the federal public service.

The OPM later concluded that ATF leadership “showed disregard for the rule of law and the regulations” governing federal management policies and practices.

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As a result of this finding, the OPM has for the time being suspended the ATF’s authority to classify its own employees as occupying federal law enforcement positions “until the issues are resolved at the OPM satisfaction,” the letter to Biden reads. ATF is also in the process of updating the descriptions of various positions to reflect their actual duties.

Fifty of the employees who held misclassified positions have been reassigned or retired, the letter said.

“I thank the whistleblowers for bringing forward these very serious allegations and I am pleased that, under OPM’s oversight, the ATF has taken corrective action,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner said in a statement.

“While I find the report reasonable, progress toward a full resolution has been slow, which may be attributable to the long-standing nature of the issues and the ingrained culture reinforcing ATF practices,” Kerner said.

“I am pleased that the OPM continues to monitor progress in implementing the required corrective actions, and I urge ATF Internal Affairs to hold responsible parties accountable,” he said.

However, in the letter to Biden, Kerner noted that whistleblowers who first complained about the practice believe “the report has not sufficiently captured the extent of ATF’s illegal practices or the full impact of the harm”.

Kerner wrote that whistleblowers believe there were many more misclassified posts than detailed in the OPM audit, and that the ATF “significantly underestimated” the waste due to misclassifications. job classification.

“Furthermore, they pointed out that the agency failed to consider the impact of the wrongdoing
on the agency’s non-law enforcement employees,” Kerner wrote.

“Finally, whistleblowers indicated that ATF has failed to adequately address wrongdoing, claiming that employees continue to work in positions for which they are not qualified and that it is legally untenable to ‘cancel debts incurred by employees who improperly received LEAP.’

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