Taxpayers were billed an average of $45,000 in overtime and extra pay for each FBI agent temporarily posted to Iraq over the course of four years, according to a new Justice Department report. In some cases, agents were paid to watch movies, exercise and attend parties.
In all, the audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found the FBI racked up $7.8 million in improper wages between 2003 and 2007.
Thursday's report blamed a faulty FBI policy that allowed agents to claim the extra time and money. An FBI spokesman said that policy — which initially sought to enlist volunteers to go to dangerous war zones — is no longer in place.
"Several FBI employees noted that they periodically spent time during the work day washing clothes," the report noted. Asked whether he should have been paid for the time spent in this activity, one employee defended the practice, saying, "'When you're in that environment, anything you do to survive is work for the FBI.'"
Other agents defended being paid to go to a regular Saturday night cocktail party, calling it an important "liaison" meeting. And in another case, one supervisor said he "had to laugh" when he saw how many agents were assigned to the office charged with preparing evidence for court trials of Saddam Hussein and his associates.
"Maybe they needed extra poker players," said the unnamed supervisor.
16 hours a day?
The report concluded: "We found that, on the whole, few if any employees worked exactly 16 hours a day, every day, for 90 days straight, within the meaning of the term 'work' as it is used in applicable regulations and policies."
Since March 2003, the FBI has temporarily deployed 1,150 agents and other employees to Iraq, usually for three-month periods. Fine's investigators reviewed the time and attendance records for each.
Over the four-year period, the report found, the FBI spent $63 million in overtime and extra pay for employees in Iraq — $7.8 million of which was improperly billed.
In a statement, FBI Assistant Director John Miller said the now-defunct policy was only supposed to be a short-time pay solution in the early days of the war. He said managers at FBI headquarters "allowed a flawed system to develop and remain in place too long."
"FBI employees lived with sniper attacks, mortar fire, and roadside bombs as part of their daily work environment," Miller said. He said FBI managers "attempted to adapt a long established, domestic pay system for domestic law enforcement to unprecedented wartime assignments for FBI personnel."
Fine's investigation found that agents claimed at least eight hours of overtime a day, every day, for the three months they were stationed in Iraq. Until this year, FBI supervisors in the United States routinely approved the hours billed, despite having no personal knowledge of the time the agents were working.
The report also rapped the FBI for failing to maintain accurate records of overtime costs.
Similarly, FBI agents in Afghanistan also misused overtime and extra pay allowances, but to a lesser extent, the report found.
But FBI agents were not the only culprits, Fine concluded. Also misusing extra pay and attendance policies in Iraq and Afghanistan — but in a more limited way — were agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; The Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service.