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House to crack down on looting of overtime funds by federal workers

The House this week is expected to call up and pass legislation that will stop federal border officials from padding their paychecks with overtime pay that they didn't earn.

The Department of Homeland Security currently operates a fund for "uncontrollable overtime," which is used pay out overtime that extends beyond a regular shift. The fund is meant to pay Border Patrol agents when more time is needed for arrests or other time on the job that is needed and cannot be easily predicted.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.24.48 AM A U.S. Border Patrol agent rides along the Border Fence on an ATV, near Hope Park in downtown Brownsville, Texas. Congress is cracking down on abusive overtime practices by some border officials.
Image: AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty

But in 2013, the Office of Special Counsel released a report saying those funds were routinely raided by DHS workers, including people with desk jobs who didn't put in any overtime. OSC said that practice is costing the government tens of millions of dollars a year in fraudulent overtime claims.

In October 2013, the Washington Post reported that DHS employees called the fund the "candy bowl," and would routinely claim the money even for just wasting time at work.

"Employees will sit at their desks for an extra two hours, catching up on Netflix, talking to friends or using it for commuting time," Jose Rafael Ducos Bello told the Post.

House lawmakers will call up legislation on Tuesday to end this problem, the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act. Under the legislation, border agents will have to choose whether they are working an extra five or ten hours per week in overtime — they will then have to work that time, and will be paid accordingly.

Officials can also chose not to work any overtime at all, and in that case, they'll get paid their regular amount. The bill totally eliminates the optional, fluctuating overtime fund, a change that both DHS and federal workers seem to favor.

The bill started in the Senate, and was proposed by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). It was easily approved in a voice vote back in September, and a Senate report estimated that the bill would save the government $100 million each year by cracking down on fraud and streamlining the process of paying Border Patrol agents.

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