EPA inspector general gets in trouble with itself

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They say that character is what you do when no one else is looking.

In that case, chalk up a character victory for the EPA???s Office of the Inspector General, which gave itself a slap on the wrist this week for breaking its own rules when it comes to tracking overtime pay.

Because the inspector general did not properly track overtime work or timesheets by employees, the office incurred overtime charges without proper authorization, the report found. The whole thing came to light because the U.S. Senate asked the inspector general to investigate the use of overtime by EPA employees and whether such costs were being tracked and properly approved.

???This policy had stated that the OIG strives to achieve its mission in a manner that minimizes the need for employees to work overtime. However, when employees are required to work overtime, the OIG must follow the EPA???s rules and procedures regarding overtime pay and compensatory time,??? the auditors concluded.

Over the course of two fiscal years ending in September 2013, the inspector general incurred more than 2,500 hours of overtime work ??? costing taxpayers an estimated $168,000.

That???s hardly even a drop in the ocean of federal spending. Still, it???s good to know government watchdogs like the inspector general are also watching themselves.

But such meta-watchdoging makes one question a few things. Like, if the very people who are supposed to be making sure everyone else follows the rules don???t seem to know the rules, how can every employee of the EPA (much less the rest of the government) know the rules.

Leaving that aside, overtime pay is a big expense for the federal government ??? although getting a handle on exactly how much it actually costs is not easy, for many of the same reasons the EPA???s inspector general discovered. Timesheets aren???t checked and extra hours aren???t approved the way they are supposed to be.

In such an environment, are federal workers being overworked? Are they claiming overtime pay without needing it? It???s hard to be sure.

But at least someone is watching the watchers ??? even if they???re just watching themselves.