Treasury whistleblower revealed half a billion dollars in uncollected US debt

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A A Department of Labor employee uncovered nearly half a billion dollars in federal government trash.

The former Occupational Safety and Health Administration staffer alerted officials nearly three years ago to unpaid fines owed to the agency by companies that committed workplace safety violations. The Treasury Department, which failed to collect the money due to a computer software error, soon discovered that millions were owed to OSHA.

Now it’s clear that the problem has created a much bigger problem than anyone – including Anonymous whistleblower – realized.

Following his complaint to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a new audit revealed that the government has failed to collect nearly $473 million owed to 28 federal offices, including the House, through June 27.

The problems apparently began in October 2017, when the Treasury’s Office of Tax Services installed a “plug and play” computer program for government-wide debt collection, according to the Office’s July 7 report. This new system was unable to initiate collection requests from agencies “due to a software error occurring primarily when a business address was provided instead of a primary address,” the report explained. This meant that “Letters of Demand… could not be sent due to missing or incorrect address information”.

This was fixed in January 2020 – but still, not many missing the money has been collected. As of June 27, according to the report, only 10% of the $96.9 million owed to OSHA had been collected. The problem for other agencies is much worse. They only collected $3.2 million, less than 1% of the $376 million owed.

“This is certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, dollar amounts mentioned in a disclosure case referred by the CSO,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner told The Washington Post. “This is by far the largest sum of money uncovered by a whistleblower during my tenure.”

Kerner’s office should not be confused with special advocates who are appointed on a temporary basis to investigate potential corruption. Instead, it’s an independent agency that enforces, among other things, federal whistleblower protections and public service laws.

Kerner honored the whistleblower in September with the 2021 Special Counsel Public Service Award. “The whistleblower’s allegations in this case have been substantiated,” Kerner said at the time, before issues went well beyond beyond OSHA are documented, adding that the action resulted in “significant corrective action to resolve the software issue and recover funds owed to the government.”

But this good citizen and vigilant federal employee did not get a share of the recovered dollars like the Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblowers do.

Unlike the SEC, which funds rewards for whistleblowers (usually in the private sector), through fines against violators of securities laws, the special advocate is not authorized to offer monetary rewards to its whistleblowers, who are almost always federal employees.

“These employees are coming forward to voice their concerns about their agencies and are integral to holding government accountable,” said Zachary Kurz, director of communications for CSO. “Unlike the SEC, our whistleblowers generally understand that this is not a financial reward process – most make a disclosure because they want to correct some wrongdoing as part of their public service. .”

The SEC on Tuesday announced a $17 million whistleblower reward, among $1.3 billion to 278 people since 2012.

In this case, the whistleblower wishes to remain anonymous even though they no longer work for the agency. He’s glad his report to the OSC led to action on a half-billion-dollar problem.

“I’m not motivated by money,” said the OSC whistleblower, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his former colleagues still in the department. “I’m an honest person…I’ve always wanted to do good, regardless of the consequences or whether it ruffles feathers or whatever.”

Following the whistleblower’s allegations, Kerner sent a September 2019 letter to Labor and Treasury concluding that “there is a strong likelihood that the information provided to the OSC will reveal a violation of the law, the rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; and a huge waste of funds.

The gross waste of funds is obvious.

“It’s definitely gross mismanagement,” Kerner said. “Despite being aware of the software problem, neither Treasury nor OSHA officials took prompt action to correct it, prompting the whistleblower to come to the OSC. The initial report from the Treasury also said uncollected debts are a potential waste of funds because as debts age, they become more difficult to collect.

A statement from OSHA said its inspector general “has concluded that OSHA has complied” with federal debt collection guidelines. The Treasury said the software error “did not result in the loss of the government’s legal rights to pursue debts, and the majority of debts continue to be collected through our normal collection processes.”

Labor and the Treasury took no disciplinary action related to the mismanagement and waste of millions.


Washington

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