A 2017 Waste Report Highlights Telework Abuse

Dec 4, 2017

telework

Senator James Lankford (R-OK) has released his annual report highlighting areas of waste in the federal government. This year’s report, Federal Fumbles Volume 3, lists $473.6 billion in what Lankford says are examples of wasteful and inefficient government spending along with proposed solutions.

OWCP Telework Abuse

Telework abuse is one of the featured items in this report. Per the report, the benefit of working from home has the potential to save as much as $700 billion per year. However, that assumes no employee productivity is lost. It uses data from the Government Accountability Office, noting that 427,000 feds participated in telework programs in 2015.

The report also suggests that because of the number of employees working from home, the program easily gets abused. An example is cited in which a senior executive from the Labor Department’s (DOL) Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) reported employees often abuse the departments’ telework policy by over-reporting their telework hours. According to the Office of Personnel Management, 60% of OWCP’s 1549 employees reported working from home in 2014.

Another report from GAO, from February 2017, found that DOL refused to accept GAO’s recommendation to better oversee and document employee telework agreements to ensure these agreements accurately reflect telework participation.

Lankford’s report noted, “OWCP’s primary job is to efficiently process federal employee worker compensation claims with so OWCP employees likely abusing DOL’s telework program, it’s no surprise that federal employees complain of severe backlogs regarding workers’ compensation claims.” His report suggests that DOL could make a good start in fixing telework abuse by simply following GAO’s recommendations on properly documenting and reviewing employee telework agreements. Also, he says Congress should revise DOL’s telework program to ensure it’s contributing to the agency’s mission of efficiently processing workers’ compensation claims.

Woes at the IRS

Other issues from the 2017 edition of this report featured the Internal Revenue Service.

Software

The IRS spent $12 million on cloud-based email software to replace the existing software in 2016. However, no one ever checked to make sure it was compatible with the agency’s systems. It was never implemented because it wasn’t compatible, so the existing email software remained in place.

Previously Fired Employees and Rehiring

This example focused on a 2014 Treasury Inspector General report that found from 2010-2013, the IRS hired 824 employees who had previously been terminated due to “prior conduct or performance issues”. One employee was even rehired despite having “DO NOT REHIRE” stamped on his employee file.

A follow-up 2017 IG report found over 200 employees were rehired between January 2015-March 2016 under similar circumstances. Some were terminated for not filing tax returns or improperly accusing taxpayer records.

Legislation, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), prevents the IRS from rehiring employees it fired in the past. “Our $20 trillion debt will continue to increase until we implement spending cuts, government reforms, and create a healthy economy,” he said. “This federal fumbles report provides commonsense examples of ways to limit our spending and fix government inefficiencies.”

Other Areas of Concern

Workforce Fumbles

Along with IRS workforce issues, Lankford questioned the Homeland Security Department for not hiring quick enough to meet operational needs.

The report also cites the Education Department for paying for an employee to get a degree that wasn’t job-related.

It blames the U.S. Postal Service for allowing its workers to take leave without pay to campaign for their candidates of choice leading up to the 2016 election. A previous audit found this caused the agency to pay out an extra $90,000 in overtime.

Lankford also highlighted a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts that, after going toward a local organization in New England, eventually awarded $30,000 for a dance performance called Doggie Hamlet. He said the NEA should refocus its grant awards on projects that “advance the arts and our national interests”.

National Science Foundation

Many fumbles have stemmed from NSF Congressional reports on waste. Lankford faulted NSF for spending $300,000 on research regarding lawmakers’ “dear colleague” letters used to recruit cosponsors/signatures of letters.

NSF spent $2.6 million on a serious of studies into stickleback fish and their ability to adapt to different environments. The senator said, “there may be some value” to the research but thought the $1.8 million NSF awarded to study how the fish functioned in Iceland was too much.

NSF spent another $40,000 for Icelandic research into the services the country offered refugees.

More Areas of Concern

The National Endowment for the Humanities provided $75,000 to a university to create electronic versions of puppets so they could eventually be scanned and used on a virtual reality device.

The National Institutes of Health has spent $1.1 million on studies researching the impact of different types of housing and financial assistance on recipients. Lankford said NIH should not engage in “manipulating people for science”.

The report also faulted agencies for spending large and small amounts. It highlighted a $20,000 NEA grant that funded 2 weeks of an “adult summer camp” where artists/scientists discussed climate change.

It also cited the Air Force for spending $745 million on a project to upgrade its Air Operation Center that was ultimately terminated and the Defense Department for misplacing $1 billion worth of equipment.

Lankford also noted improving tax return auditing procedures, which could lead to an additional $458 billion in revenue.

The first 2 volumes of this report have led to billions in savings and better policy outcomes. Here’s hoping this one does as well.

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