The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspector general’s office improperly paid 11 employees about $347,000 in “incentives and accrued leave” as part of agency-wide buyouts, according to an audit released Monday.
“These 11 buyouts occurred because the OIG’s Office of the Chief of Staff had weak controls for verifying that staff who were offered and accepted buyouts occupied positions” not approved by federal officials, an inspector general audit found.
Investigators also found that “OIG management did not sufficiently oversee the actions of personnel in the Office of the Chief of Staff” managing the buyouts offered from 2013 to 2014. The EPA had to reduce its staff as part of budget “sequestration.”
That year, Republicans and then-President Barack Obama couldn’t agree on a budget, so automatic cuts to federal agencies took effect.
The Obama administration gave the EPA approval to offer employees $25,000 to retire, and 23 inspector general’s office employees took the incentives when offered. In total, the IG’s office handed out $859,000 worth of retirement and leave incentives.
However, nearly half the IG officials who took buyouts weren’t eligible to receive them, according to investigators. These employees “did not occupy positions matching the organizational unit, geographic location, occupational series, grade level and other factors,” the Office of Personnel Management approved.
“The misapplication of buyout authority resulted in the OIG paying approximately $347,000 in incentives and accrued leave for OIG employees in positions that were not in the OPM-approved buyout plan,” investigators found.
On top of that, the inspector general’s office did not eliminate the positions being held by the 23 employees who got buyouts. The office “potentially hired five new staff into positions that should have been abolished,” the audit found.
“A Criminal Investigator and an Auditor were hired into positions with the same job series, grade, full performance level and location as staff who had accepted a buyout,” the report read. “In addition, the Office of Investigations hired three other Criminal Investigators into vacated positions that should have been abolished but were instead restructured.”
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