It’s a scene from every good film about corrupt peace officers—the guys on-the-take offer an idealistic rookie a taste and that rookie brings down the whole party. Life imitated art as, according to The Washington Post, the Office of Special Counsel released a report in which it learned from seven whistleblowers that Department of Homeland Security officers have routinely abused the overtime system to pad their take-home pay by as much as 25 percent.
They called it “the candy bowl.” It was overtime money set aside for special circumstances was routinely treated as a kind of “use it, or lose it” benefit, given to employees who spent their time, according to CNN, “watching sports and entertainment channels.” This abuse has led to $8.7 million per year in fraudulent income for DHS officials, mostly officials in the embattled Customs and Border Protection service.
A representative from the National Border Patrol Council told The Washington Post, “there will always be people who misuse pay systems in any agency, but he argued that most of the money is well spent on patrol and enforcement tasks,” that are necessary for border protection. Carolyn Lerner, the special counsel working the investigation responded that her office is seeking to curb the abuse in order to protect the overtime fund, not discontinue it, even suggesting that she understands that border agents could be underpaid.
Still, the argument that the $8.7 million is just simply abuse that is unavoidable in any agency speaks to a larger issue: the cavalier attitude the government has to fraud and waste in general. When deficit hawks point fingers at welfare or education spending (or even the National Endowment of the Arts), many on the left and right wish they would focus their attention on fixing the internal fraud problems—from government employees to contractors—before looking to simply cut the programs they don’t like.