The report comes a month after the Government Accountability Office found that during a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 employees across the federal government were sent home for a month or longer. The tab for these workers exceeded three quarters of a billion dollars in salary alone.
They were put on administrative leave after being accused of misconduct that ranged from a dispute with a supervisor to criminal activity. In the EPA’s case, the agency “has carefully exercised its discretion in placing certain employees on administrative leave in cases of alleged serious misconduct,” a spokesman said in a statement.
GAO auditors estimated that the EPA paid $17,550,100 in salaries alone for about 69 employees on paid leave for a month or more between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2013.
The agency and numerous others received requests from several top Republicans in Congress to provides details on which employees are on leave and why.
EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.’s office, which is already conducting an audit of time and attendance records after the criminal conviction of a longtime employee who stole $900,000 from the agency while posing as a CIA agent, had discovered during its review that at least eight employees were on lengthy administrative leave.
“Taxpayers are paying for a fully functioning workforce, and they should get it,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the lawmakers who requested the GAO report, said in a statement.
“The EPA should explain why these employees were on leave for so long,” Grassley said. “Too often, extended paid leave is an excuse for managers to put off making a decision on whether an employee should be on the job while an administrative action is pending.”
The broader time and attendance audit, requested by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), is looking at whether any of EPA’s 15,000 employees are getting paid but not working. It is scheduled for release in April.
Auditors discovered the eight employees during a payroll analysis of employees who did not log onto their computers for four weeks running.
The extensive use of administrative leave continues despite government personnel rules that limit paid leave for employees facing disciplinary action to “rare circumstances” in which the employee is considered a threat.
GAO auditors found that supervisors used wide discretion in putting employees on leave, including for alleged violations of government rules and laws, whistleblowing, doubts about trustworthiness, and disputes with colleagues or bosses. Some employees remain on paid leave while they challenge demotions and other punishments.
While the employees stayed home, they not only collected paychecks but also built their pensions, vacation and sick days and moved up the federal pay scale.