Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) employees fraudulently received at least $9.7 million in pay and benefits over five years, according to a March 29, 2022, report from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
The report indicates that the fraud may have gone on longer. The report says ATF is working with the Office of Personnel Management to correct the problems.
One Republican Senator believes the problem is more significant than reported and wants to know who will be accountable.
“The American people deserve to know the full extent of the ATF bureaucrats’ dishonest dealings,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) wrote in a May 23 letter to Michael E. Horowitz, Department of Justice Inspector General.
Neither Ernst nor the ATF returned telephone calls or emails seeking comment.
The OSC report says a whistleblower reported that from 2016 to 2021, at least 108 ATF employees were misclassified as law enforcement personnel. As a result, they reportedly received enhanced retirement benefits and pay.
According to the report, in June 2020, two ATF whistleblowers told the OSC that “ATF has a longstanding practice of systematically and intentionally misclassifying non-law enforcement jobs as law enforcement positions.”
The OSC sent a letter to then-Attorney General William Barr requesting an investigation. The following September, ATF investigators learned that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was also investigating. ATF turned its findings over to OPM to avoid overlapping investigations and cooperated with its investigators.
Investigators identified 108 ATF misclassified employees. According to the report, the ATF ignored the law and agency regulations to set its own compensation system.
“It was found that ATF established several merit promotion policies that violate OPM regulations and merit system principles,” the OSC report reads.
Culture of Gross Mismanagement
In her letter to Horowitz, Ernst writes that, while she is glad the matter is being addressed, she is skeptical that all the alleged wrongdoing had been revealed.
“I remain concerned about the limited scope of the remediating actions. According to the whistleblowers, OSC’s report did not adequately capture the extent of ATF’s illegal practices or their full impact,” Ernst’s letter reads.
She added a scathing evaluation of the ATF’s attitude toward its responsibilities to taxpayers.
“Despite OSC’s role ending, more work remains to be done on this important issue to ensure the ATF’s culture of gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds is fully examined and remediated to stamp out any willingness to abuse the public trust which may exist amongst ATF bureaucrats,” the letter reads.
Ernst says she wants Horowitz’s office to work with whistleblowers to ensure all alleged wrongdoing is uncovered; she wants the government reimbursed for excess pay and benefits that were improperly paid, and she wants recommendations on disciplinary action “up to and including termination, as well as criminal referrals where appropriate.”
She has requested a report by June 6, 2023.