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Published: Monday, 12/29/2008

Arrogance at the FBI

WHEN public servants forget whom they're obligated to serve, they do what FBI leaders did for nearly five years to keep some overseas employees happy. According to a report by the Justice Department inspector general, FBI managers actually encouraged employees, temporarily assigned to Iraq, to inflate their time-billing records, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.

The practice, which violated federal law and regulations, only changed this year when the inspector's investigation was under way. That's what it took to finally stop more tax money from being spent on bogus claims of agency overtime and extra pay.

Inspector General Glenn Fine reported that FBI counterterrorism division managers inexplicably condoned an overtime policy that allowed employees sent to Iraq to collect nearly triple the typical worker's salary. Between 2003 and 2007, they earned about $71,000 during the usual 90-day tours.

The employees were apparently given the green light by headquarters to bill an average of $45,000 in overtime and extra pay during their tours by routinely claiming to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week - even when otherwise occupied exercising, eating, watching movies, or attending parties. One employee had the audacity to defend the billing practice, saying "When you're in that environment, anything you do to survive is work for the FBI."

So bench-pressing, catching a flick, and partying is all in a day's work? For some dream job maybe, but not any in a government system that purports to comply with normal pay statutes and other personnel regulations.

The inspector general conservatively estimated that at least $7.8 million of the $99 million taxpayer cost of the FBI efforts in Iraq was squandered in unwarranted payments for time not spent on the job. "We found that, on the whole, few if any employees worked exactly 16 hours a day, every day, for 90 days straight" within the customary meaning of the term "work," the report concluded.

For too long FBI management allowed a system to develop and remain in place that milked taxpayers of millions with deceptive employee schedule-setting and record-keeping not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. Those ultimately responsible for such a flagrant abuse of public trust must go.



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