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For years, the agency intentionally misclassified jobs as law
enforcement and paid these employees benefits to which they were not entitled.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today alerted the President and Congress to substantial waste, mismanagement, and unlawful employment practices at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Two whistleblowers from ATF's human resources office disclosed to OSC that ATF unlawfully provided law enforcement pay and benefits to agents and investigators who filled non-law-enforcement positions, such as in human resources. These positions had been intentionally misclassified to be within the law enforcement job series. The agency substantiated the allegations, finding long-standing misclassification of upper-level jobs, which resulted in ATF overpaying agents by up to $20 million over a five-year period. That cost could be much higher given that the unlawful job classifications had been common practice at ATF far longer than the five-year timeframe reviewed by investigators.
OSC referred the allegations to ATF and, rather than investigate internally, ATF deferred to an ongoing audit by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and ultimately adopted most of OPM's findings. OPM “conclude[d] that ATF leadership had acted outside of merit system principles and demonstrated disregard for the rule of law and regulations that implement Federal human capital management policies and practices." In total, 108 employees were found to be in non-law-enforcement positions who were improperly provided Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) and enhanced retirement benefits, although ATF continues to contest the designation of some of the positions as misclassified.
In response to these findings, OPM suspended ATF's authority to classify federal law enforcement positions. ATF has also begun the process of updating position descriptions to accurately reflect job duties. As of March 2023, 36 of the employees who held misclassified positions had been reassigned and another 14 had retired. ATF's Internal Affairs Division is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the illegal policies and practices.
“I thank the whistleblowers for coming forward with these very serious allegations and am pleased that under OPM's oversight, ATF has initiated corrective measures," said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “While I find the report to be reasonable, progress toward full resolution has been slow, which may be attributable to the long-standing nature of the problems and the entrenched culture reinforcing ATF's practices. I am pleased that OPM continues to monitor progress in implementing required corrective actions, and I urge ATF's internal affairs to hold the responsible parties accountable."