Feds who commit fraud on the job should at least be fired

By: Mark Hyman

“Public service is a public trust.”

This, according to Standards of Ethical Conduct for Federal Employees, is the basic obligation of public service. According to these standards, “Each employee has a responsibility to ethical principles . . . above private gain.”

If this is truly the basic obligation of public service then it begs the question: What should happen to federal employees who violate that public trust when they engage in deception or fraudulent practices in order to receive government benefits to which they are not entitled?

The Social Security Administration is one agency we put under the microscope regarding this basic obligation. In response to our Freedom of Information Act request, we received documents that show that between 2006 and 2010 25 SSA employees were believed to have received federal benefits — including Social Security benefits — to which they were not entitled. In one case, an employee received nearly $65,000.

According to documents received under the Freedom of Information Act request, investigations were conducted and the allegations were substantiated in all but, two cases. In a third case, the investigation was terminated when the employee died.

Seventeen of the 25 cases dealt with Social Security employees improperly receiving Social Security benefits including Title II disability insurance and Title XVI supplemental security income paid to the aged, blind and disabled; and misusing representative payee funds.

A representative payee is an individual who manages the benefits of a qualified recipient who is deemed incapable of managing their own finances. Documents suggest the representative payees kept monies intended for the beneficiaries. In one case, the amount was nearly $28,000.

In the remaining eight cases, the fraud included improperly receiving Section 8 public housing payments, welfare benefits, and transit subsidy vouchers. One employee improperly received Federal Emergency Management Agency financial aid paid-out to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Investigations were started in all 25 cases in which allegations were made regarding the improper receipt of benefits. The allegations were proven in 22 cases.

In two other cases, the allegations were not substantiated although documents suggest there was evidence of improper behavior by the employees. In the 25th case, the investigation was ended when the employee died.

In the 22 cases in which the allegations were proved, four employees were terminated, three resigned, four were suspended, one was reprimanded and one was permitted to retire.

The remaining nine employees were allowed to keep their jobs without any action reported to have been taken against their employment status.

In these nine cases, federal authorities declined prosecuting eight of them because they repaid the misappropriated funds, which ranged from approximately $3,000 to nearly $60,000.

This brings us back to the original question. What should happen to federal employees who violate the public trust? Does repaying the government for the improper benefits qualify these employees for a “do-over” thereby allowing them to keep their jobs?

Officials at the Social Security Administration appear to think so. I respectfully disagree.

About The Author Mark Hyman:
Mark Hyman hosts "Behind the Headlines," a commentary program for Sinclair Broadcast Group.

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