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Highlights

What GAO Found

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components spent $512 million on administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO) payments in fiscal year 2013 and $255 million through March 2014, mostly on Border Patrol agents. DHS's AUO expenditures increased from fiscal years 2008 through 2013, in part because of higher payments per earner. The average annual AUO payment per employee increased by about 31 percent, or from about $13,000 to about $17,000 from fiscal years 2008 through 2013, as shown in the figure below.

Figure: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) Total Earners and Average Amount Spent per Earner Fiscal Years 2008 through 2013

Figure: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) Total Earners and Average Amount Spent per Earner Fiscal Years 2008 through 2013

Some DHS component policies are not consistent with certain provisions of federal regulations or guidance, and components have not regularly followed their respective AUO policies and procedures, contributing to widespread AUO administration and oversight deficiencies. For example, components have not consistently reviewed hours claimed and employee eligibility for AUO. In response, in 2014, DHS issued two memorandums. One required the suspension of AUO for certain employees. The other required components to submit plans to address deficiencies, which most DHS components have done. DHS also plans to issue a department-wide AUO directive and to monitor component implementation of corrective actions through its ongoing human resource office assessments every 3 to 4 years, among other things. However, this monitoring is too general and infrequent to effectively monitor or evaluate DHS components' progress. Given the department's long-standing and widespread AUO administration and oversight deficiencies, developing and executing a department-wide oversight mechanism to ensure components implement AUO appropriately on a sustained basis, and in accordance with law and regulation, could better position DHS to monitor components' progress remediating AUO deficiencies. Further, DHS's reporting annually to Congress on the extent to which DHS components have made progress in remediating AUO implementation deficiencies could provide Congress with reasonable assurance that DHS components have sustained effective and appropriate use of AUO in accordance with law and regulation.

Why GAO Did This Study

DHS had approximately 29,000 employees earning AUO, a type of premium pay intended to compensate eligible employees for substantial amounts of irregular, unscheduled overtime. DHS components' use of AUO has been a long-standing issue since at least 2007, when reviews identified the inappropriate use of AUO in DHS. GAO was asked to review DHS components' use and implementation of AUO.

This report addresses, among other things, how much DHS spent on AUO from fiscal year 2008 through March 2014 (the most current data available) and the extent to which DHS components implemented AUO appropriately. GAO analyzed AUO payments data from components that have regularly used AUO, which included U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Secret Service, National Protection and Programs Directorate, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Office of the Chief Security Officer. When calculating annual averages, GAO used the last full fiscal year of available data (2013). GAO also analyzed component AUO policies and procedures to assess compliance with federal regulations and guidance.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that DHS develop and execute a department-wide mechanism to ensure components implement AUO appropriately. Congress should consider requiring DHS to report annually on components' progress remediating AUO implementation deficiencies. DHS concurred with the recommendation.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To ensure that DHS components have sustained effective and appropriate use of AUO in accordance with law and regulation, Congress should consider requiring DHS to report annually to Congress on the use of AUO within the department, including the extent to which DHS components have made progress remediating AUO implementation deficiencies and information from annual third-party AUO audits or other department AUO oversight efforts.
Closed - Not Implemented
In 2014, we reported on the use of administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to compensate employees for time worked beyond the standard 8-hour workday. Since that report, DHS and Congress have taken a variety of actions related to the use of AUO at the department and its components. For example, the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2014 (BPAPRA), passed in December 2014, established a new overtime compensation system for Border Patrol agents (the majority of former AUO-users). Further, an amendment to Title V, enacted in December 2016, expanded law enforcement availability pay to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Air and Marine Operations. As of January 2018, CBP reported that it no longer had any employees authorized for AUO. As of March 2020, two DHS components continue to utilize AUO-Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Secret Service. However, in 2014, we also recommended that to better position DHS to monitor components' progress remediating AUO deficiencies, it should develop and execute a department-wide oversight mechanism to ensure components implement AUO appropriately on a sustained bases, and in accordance with law and regulation. DHS subsequently implemented a department-wide oversight mechanism on AUO and conducted audits of AUO usage by its components, and GAO closed this recommendation as implemented. Although Congress has not taken action to require DHS to report annually on the use of AUO within the department, through the collective actions described above, we believe the negative effects of implementing AUO incorrectly at DHS have largely been mitigated and further congressional action is unnecessary. As a result, we are closing this matter as not implemented.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security To better position DHS to monitor components' progress remediating AUO deficiencies, the Secretary of DHS should develop and execute a department-wide oversight mechanism to ensure components implement AUO appropriately on a sustained basis, and in accordance with law and regulation.
Closed - Implemented
In December 2014, we found that some Department of Homeland Security (DHS) component policies were not consistent with certain provisions of federal regulations or guidance, and components have not regularly followed their respective administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO) policies and procedures, contributing to widespread AUO administration and oversight deficiencies. We recommended that the Secretary of DHS develop and execute a department-wide oversight mechanism to ensure components implement AUO appropriately on a sustained basis, and in accordance with law and regulation. In response, in June 2015, DHS took actions toward addressing our recommendation by developing a department-wide oversight mechanism described in a directive and instruction on AUO. DHS's AUO directive defines responsibility for Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) that includes establishing AUO policy and guidance, providing program oversight and evaluating component AUO compliance, and administering an AUO training program, among other things. The directive also requires component heads to develop component-specific AUO policies that must be reviewed by DHS OCHCO for concurrence and also submit to OCHCO the results of an independent, third-party audit of compliance with applicable AUO law and policy no later than 18 months after the date of the directive (i.e., by December 2016) and annually thereafter. In January 2018, DHS OCHCO provided GAO with copies of component-specific AUO policies from those DHS components that may use AUO-specifically, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Secret Service (USSS). A third party contractor completed an audit of CBP's use of AUO for fiscal year 2016 and, as of January 2018, CBP reported that it no longer had any employees certified for AUO. In March 2016, a separate office within DHS completed its annual financial audit of ICE, which included an audit of ICE's use of AUO. In September 2017, a third party contractor completed an audit of USSS's use of AUO for fiscal year 2017. As a result of these actions, DHS should be in a better position to monitor components' progress in remediating AUO deficiencies.

Full Report

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