For years, the federal government has been wracked by problems of employees failing to show up at the office or abusing teleworking arrangements.
A classic example occurred during the Obama administration when at least 19 paralegals at the Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office were allowed to work from home. They were paid $60,000 to $80,000 a year to essentially log onto Facebook, shop online and watch TV – at a total cost to taxpayers of $5.1 million over a four-year period.
The problem stems as much from lax supervision as from dishonesty among workers. Supervisors often don’t check up on their employees, even when they are absent for extended periods of time.
Now comes a report from the Inspector General of the Veterans Affairs Department that a former research investigator at a VA health facility in Oklahoma City scammed the government out of more than $100,000 by claiming thousands of hours of work while he was drawing a salary half way across the country at Johns Hopkins University.
The unnamed employee, a medical professor, showed up for his job at the Oklahoma City health care facility on only 30 out of the 409 workdays between the time he was hired in April 2014 and September 2016, when his fraud was discovered that subsequently led to his firing in March, according to the inspector general’s report that was issued last week.
“We found that, between April 2014 and September 2016, [the employee] teleworked without authorization for 157 hours, collected dual compensation from VA and JHU for 1,374 hours, and misused his official time when he received VA pay for 441 hours while traveling and giving lectures during his VA duty hours that were not VA sponsored,” the IG reported.
On many of the days he was missing from the VA facility, the research investigator was serving as a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the division of gastroenterology, collecting a total of 1,374 hours’ worth of dual compensation from the federal government and the university.
When confronted by government investigators with the evidence of double charging the VA and the university, the employee gave this garbled response: “Sometimes I was sitting in Hopkins, and I claimed the time for VA here. But I would spend a lot of actual time working for Hopkins. So I would be–I would be wrong if I send the same timecard at the same time. Then I’m getting double pay, okay? But the thing is that at Hopkins, I never signed a timecard. So I was under impression myself because, you know, I could work other hours.”
The inspector general’s findings, first reported by Government Executive, was also highly critical of the employee’s supervisor, Dr. Philip Comp, who “failed his supervisory responsibilities.”
Comp, who first joined the VA in 1984, was unaware of the employee’s attendance and yet certified his times cards for period in which he was either working at Johns Hopkins or traveling and delivering talks and lectures not sponsored by the VA, according to the report.
Comp, the associate chief of staff for research and development at the Oklahoma VA facility, resigned from his position in March. The inspector general referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma, but prosecutors declined to move forward with criminal charges against the former employee and suggested that the IG take administrative steps to try to recover some of the money.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin vowed last week to fire VA workers in a crackdown on incompetent or dishonest employees who are not delivering on the agency’s promise of better service to veterans.
"Watch us," Shulkin said in a Fox News interview. "People who don't show up to work, who do cocaine and are watching porn at work are going to be fired, because I'm not going to tolerate it, and they're going to be out of our system."