Customs Service:

1911 Act Governing Overtime Is Outdated

GGD-91-96: Published: Jun 14, 1991. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the U.S. Customs Service's use of inspectional overtime.

GAO found that: (1) Customs did not comply with federal regulations and its own procedures governing the use and payment of overtime for inspection services; (2) internal control weaknesses at five ports reviewed resulted in errors in work ticket preparation and certification, and in data entry in the overtime system; (3) local Customs policies and procedures for implementing overtime varied widely; (4) some inspectors scheduled and approved their own overtime, violating basic internal control requirements to discourage abuse and fraudulent activity; (5) Customs identified 184 apparent duplicates out of 790,767 work tickets processed in fiscal year (FY) 1989, resulting in about $18,500 in overpayments; (6) overtime pay for Customs inspectors increased from $56.8 million in FY 1985 to $102.8 million in FY 1990; (7) Customs focused on ensuring that inspectors did not exceed the $25,000 annual cap, rather than efficiently managing individual overtime assignments; (8) Customs management adopted such inefficient overtime practices as inconsistently adjusting shifts, using staggered hours to schedule work, using callbacks inefficiently, overstaffing on Sundays and holidays, and using incorrect rates for assignments lasting less than 1 hour; (9) Customs could save $22 million annually if it extended the regular work-day schedule by 2 hours; and (10) the 1911 Act establishing overtime provisions hindered efficient overtime management, since the special payments provided were premised on conditions that no longer existed.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress revised the 1911 Act governing overtime as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.

    Matter: Congress should reevaluate the basis for computing premium pay for Customs inspectors and make such revisions in the 1911 Act governing overtime as are necessary to ensure that hours paid bear a more direct relationship to hours worked.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Callback assignments are discussed in the law and the regulations, and further explained in NIAP. The law prohibits Customs from paying callback when an overtime assignment begins less than an hour after a regular assignment or ends less than an hour before the beginning of a regular assignment.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to, as a minimum, more efficiently manage inspectional overtime by developing procedures that better ensure the most efficient use of callback assignments and that better match Sunday and holiday staffing to anticipated work load.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Changes to the 1911 Act do not allow for FEPA pay rates for inspectional activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to, as a minimum, more efficiently manage inspectional overtime by reimbursing overtime using the Federal Employees' Pay Act (FEPA) rates when assignments are continuations of assignments begun during regular hours and last less than 1 overtime hour.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Shifts are aligned with work load. Since the GAO report, this has been a standard by which all shifts are established. Previously, shifts might be from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and in some cases, other assignments are worked on overtime. Now shifts are established around the clock to coincide with the workload, and overtime is used to fill in the gaps.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to, as a minimum, more efficiently manage inspectional overtime by aggressively employing such techniques as shifts and staggered work hours to cover more of the work load within regular work hours.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs found a small number of duplicate payments. Customs added new edits to the overtime system, including a calendar that prevents overlapping payments, requires online certification by supervisors, and verifies pro-rated assignments. One accomplishment report will be done for all recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to improve internal controls over the administration of overtime by reviewing duplicate payments to determine whether fraud or abuse were present and take any necessary disciplinary and recovery actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Headquarters required responses (and corrective action) from the field for problems surfaced in the quarterly reviews. Ports follow guidelines developed in partnership between Customs and the National Treasury Employees Union. These guidelines are published in the National Inspections Assignment Policy (NIAP). Certain provisions of NIAP are national, and certain specified provisions are negotiated locally.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to improve internal controls over the administration of overtime by requiring corrective action for, and routine followup on, the problems surfaced in peer review reports, and that the reports be distributed to headquarters as well as field management levels for appropriate action.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs initiated quarterly reports between field activities and headquarters, and conducted field audits (14 ports were audited in 1993 by headquarters). Close watch was kept on port, district and region expenditures on overtime. Headquarters sent quarterly reports to each region discussing ports and districts and requesting additional information on specific locations when something seemed unusual. Customs has reorganized, and there are no longer districts or regions. Under COPRA, ports make requests for overtime budgets just as they do for other budgeted activity. Headquarters requests justifications and evaluates each request.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of Customs to improve internal controls over the administration of overtime by reviewing procedures at ports, districts, and regions and the National Finance Center to ensure they comply with Customs directives and internal controls standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

 

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