Silver Lining (Government Shutdown Edition)
Contrary to what you hear from Harry Reid and the mainstream media, there is (at least) one silver lining to the current government shutdown. For at least a few days, the slackers, activists and criminals who inhabit the federal workforce won't be on the job.
Case in point? Meet John Beale, the former EPA official who bilked the government out of at least $1 million dollars by (among other things), running a bogus research project that allowed him to visit family members in California, and faking a back injury that required him to fly first class on government business trips. A single jaunt to London cost taxpayers at least $14,000, when a coach seat was available on the same flight for only $1,000.
But Beale was just getting started. His masterpiece was wrangling a four-day workweek at EPA (with full pay) by claiming that he had a one-day-a-week gig at the CIA. More on the environmental "secret agent man" from Fox News:
A high-ranking federal Environmental Protection Agency official who admitted to cheating the government out of nearly $1 million by pretending to be a secret agent, smugly refused to answer questions from lawmakers Tuesday, invoking the Fifth Amendment – even though he’s already pleaded guilty.
John Beale, who got himself a cushy four-day workweek for years by telling his bosses he had a one-day-per-week gig at the CIA, refused to answer even the most basic questions from Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Although Issa said his committee hauled Beale, 64, in not to “ridicule” him, but to ensure that the fraud he committed wasn’t being duplicated by other government employees, Beale calmly refused.
“I will be asserting my Fifth Amendment privilege this morning,” Beale, who also lied to superiors about serving in Vietnam, told a visibly frustrated Issa.
Beale’s trickery, which began more than a decade ago, cost taxpayers an estimated $886,000, much of it in the form of unearned pay over some 13 years. Under his plea agreement, he must pay that money back, as well as an additional $507,000, and serve 30-37 months in prison. His lawyer told the panel that his plea agreement did not require him to cooperate with lawmakers, though Issa said he would seek to make it a condition of acceptance of the plea and sentencing by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segel Huvelle.
Mr. Beale began his deception in 2000, when he claimed to be part of an inter-agency task force that was based at CIA Headquarters. So, every Friday for more than seven years, his EPA calendar indicated he was working at Langley. But until recently, no one bothered to confirm his "association" with the spy agency. In fact, Beale took six months off from his EPA duties in 2008, while supposedly serving with the CIA in Pakistan. Cell phone records from period indicate that Beale was actually at his vacation home in Massachusetts.
The charade finally came to an end when EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy questioned some of the expenses claimed by Beale. An investigation by the agency's assistant inspector general quickly uncovered the long-running fraud. In other words, someone finally picked up the phone and called the CIA, which confirmed that Beale had never worked for them.
During its probe, IG personnel interviewed more than 40 EPA staffers. Only one suspected that Beale's claims of being a secret agent were false. Apparently, there are a lot of stupid people employed at the agency, or they didn't want to rock the boat by making accusations against a high-ranking official.
Beale was called before Congressman Issa's committee in an effort to determine the scope of the problem. But don't expect answers from the soon-to-be-federal-inmate, or his former colleagues at EPA. Investigators found an "absence of even basic controls" at the agency, suggesting that employees can work outside their office or travel for official-sounding reasons, and no one bothers to validate their claims.
If your taxpayer blood isn't boiling by now, here are two more facts that should provoke immediate outrage. Under federal rules, IG personnel cannot compel former federal employees to talk. Reading between the lines, it sounds like there was a mini-exodus from EPA about the time the brown matter hit the fan. So far, we don't know how many of the 40 personnel contacted by the IG were "retired" by the time the investigation began.
Leading that parade was none other than John Beale. He submitted his retirement papers just before the IG began its work. That means Mr. Beale is already collecting a federal pension and will continue to receive a check during his stay in the federal pokey. Who says crime doesn't pay?
And just because some of those EPA employees may be retired, it doesn't mean they still aren't latched onto the government teat. It's almost certain that some who left under the cloud created by Beale are back in the building as consultants or contractors. It's the federal way.
A few years back, there was a wave of dismissals at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) office in Dayton, OH, after it was discovered that a military staffer had stolen almost $1 million by creating phony invoices from non-existent vendors. Because all of the invoices were for less than $100,000 ("budget dust," in the federal lexicon), no one caught onto the crime until he had pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the wake of this rampant fraud, a number of personnel, military and civilian, were fired. Investigators believed that some of the staffers may have engaged in similar activity, or ignored what was going on. Predictably, most of the civilians who lost their jobs were eventually rehired after arbitration, or they were brought back as contractors, because of their essential "expertise."
As for the military member (Air Force) who actually went to jail, he never cooperated with investigators and served a five-year sentence at Levenworth. After being released, he returned to Ohio and reportedly bought a house. Pretty remarkable, considering that federal prisoners only earn $25 a month.
With much of the federal bureaucracy now idle, taxpayers can take comfort in knowing that the crooks and deadbeats are at home for a few days, and not getting paid. Then again, fraudsters in the John Beale mode were either already at home (with pay), or had themselves classified as "essential personnel."
In fairness, there are federal employees who earn every dime of their paycheck--and then some. But in my own experience as a civil servant, I found those hard-working federal staffers were far out-numbered by the goldbricks, malcontents, office politicians, incompetents and yes, criminals, who dominate Uncle Sam's workforce. For them, the government shut-down should be considered a reward for a job badly done--assuming, of course, they actually attempt to work.