If the term “mafia” is defined as a culturally-based organized criminal enterprise, then a good argument can be made that there is an active one operating within the Senior Executive Service (SES)–complete with its own territories, families, capos, earning scams, swag, and protection.   

Let’s start with the culturally-based aspect of any mafia.   While the culture of most mafia groups typically comes from a particular global region of their ancestors-whether it be Italy, Albania, or Biloxi, a culture is merely a shared set of values, perspectives, and traditions.  OPM itself admits that there is an “SES culture” whose members “share a broad perspective of government.” There are even special qualifications and training before one can become a “made man” in the SES.  That may not involve burning holy cards, blood-letting, and commission approval, but there is a Board, the QRB, that rules on candidates’ worthiness before ceremoniously bestowing membership.

Nor should there be any quibbling over whether SES members are in it for the typical rewards of any enterprise, i.e., money, power and respect.   Not only can they earn almost $25,000 more a year in base pay than most other federal employees, but they are eligible for five-figure bonuses up to 35% of their annual salaries and very lucrative post-career consulting jobs.

But, it is the criminal nature of many SES members’ behavior that removes any doubt about whether the mafia label is appropriate.  If a non-supervisory federal employee knowingly was paying twice the fair market value for some vendor’s service or product, the public would be outraged, investigations would follow, and a criminal indictment likely leveled for defrauding government.  Prison would not be far behind.  Yet, SES capos do this every day and get rewarded for it.

For example, look at the SES capos whose earning territory is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (We at FEDSMILL like to call them the BOP familia.)  They know, just as well as any 17 year old kid who has flipped burgers does, that if employees have to work overtime they are to be paid time-and-one-half.  However, BOP familia capos continuously require their Correction Officers to work more than eight hours a day without paying them the overtime premium.  When the COs finally legally force payment, they typically get paid twice the time-and-one-half pay rate for the extra time they worked.  In other words, a GS-7 NYC-area Corrections Officer would not get $31.44 for an hour of OT, but $62.88.  Their attorneys also walk away with very lucrative fees—sometimes in the hundreds of thousands.

Perhaps this could be excused if it happened once or twice before anyone of these Department of Justice employees was told what the law required, but it has happened more than a dozen times over the last three decades.   The FLRA has repeatedly ordered the BOP to distribute huge back pay checks and stop this illegal activity, but with little success.  (Doubters should read any of the following AFGE cases:  66 FLRA 414 (2011), 66 FLRA 20 (2011), 65 FLRA 996 (2011), 65 FLRA 960 (2011), 65 FLRA 607 (2011), 65 FLRA 539 (2011), 65 FLRA 460 (2011),65 FLRA 256 (2011), 65 FLRA 157 (2011), 65 FLRA 76 (2010),64 FLRA 1168 (2010), 64 FLRA 810 (2010), 63 FLRA 423 (2009), 63 323 (2009),61 FLRA 765 (2006), 60 FLRA 298 (2004), 59 FLRA 593 (2004), 11 FLRA 29 (1983), or 8 FLRA 103 (1982)  It has happened so often that there is no doubt that this is a deliberate. (One reporting service shows that the issue has been arbitrated about 40 times, with a recent decision of over 400 pages in length outlining the history of the issue.)  In exchange for cheating employees in the current year, the SES capos earn their bonuses for coming in on budget—even though two or three years later the federal government has to clean up their mess.  That is a nice chunk of swag.

And the BOP familia is not the only SES crew operating within government.  Another family of SES capos controls the Customs and Border Protection territory. Their scam is more broadly structured involving contract violations, statutory infractions, and unilateral changes in overtime assignment practices without giving the union advance notice and bargaining, which is a ULP.  As a result, they also have been found guilty repeatedly and saddled the government with huge triple-time back pay debts and attorney fee costs.  (Check out this FEDSMILL posting for a description of how AFGE and NTEU have pummeled CBP in litigation over the last decade: CBP/DHS, Like A Fish, Is Rotting From The Head First.) But while their con is different than the BOP familia’s, their payoff is the same.  By delaying the higher costs of overtime pay in the current year they make their SES goals, earn their bonuses, get promoted, and ideally retire into lucrative private sector consulting jobs before anyone can hold them accountable for their waste, fraud and abuse.  There is no claw-back mechanism in the federal government.

As if the analogy to a mafia operation was not complete enough already, SES families have little worry they will ever be brought to justice.  The Department of Justice consigliere obviously know what is going on in the Bureau of Prisons and have turned a blind eye toward it.  OPM has not made “compliance with the labor laws” or “fiduciary LR responsibility” a critical SES membership requirement, and GAO apparently has washed its hands of waste, fraud and abuse by SES members when incurred in the name of fighting unions.  The code of omerta encompasses a broad community, including potential prosecutors, juries and judges.

This is not to say that all nor even most SES members are guilty of leading this scam.  But neither could this happen if the majority were not willingly going along like good soldiers.

While we have told this story with a bit of humor and license, there is nothing funny about  the leading federal law enforcement executives repeatedly violating the law, exploiting employees, and wasting government funds.  There is a screaming need for someone with clout over the SES dons to call for a sit-down, settle all the debts, and get everyone off the mattresses.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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