On October 6, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent letters to the heads of three government agencies requesting answers regarding a whistleblower’s recent allegation of fraudulent bonuses at the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
CBS News featured the whistleblower, who is remaining anonymous and going only by the name Joe, a day before Grassley sent the letters. Joe alleges that some employees at the ATF have received a bonus called law enforcement availability pay, or LEAP, when they did not qualify for the pay raise.
“If you were functioning in an administrative capacity, you don’t qualify for the pay. So you’re not supposed to get it,” Joe said about the LEAP bonus. “A lot of people were getting it.” The bonus was 25%, and Joe explained in his interview that “if you were making $100,000 and you got LEAP, you would get $125,000.”
“[A]ccording to information received by the Judiciary Committee, some ineligible ATF employees are receiving LEAP,” Grassley’s press release states. “ATF’s practice of classifying administrative positions as law enforcement was so pervasive that the government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suspended ATF’s authority to classify new positions as law enforcement, so as to not make administrative employees eligible for LEAP benefits.”
In his letter to OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, Grassley inquires about a 2020 letter signed by OPM Associate Director Mark Lambert that notified the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that the ATF’s “position classification authority” is “partially suspended.” Lambert’s letter noted that a workforce data review found that there were “numerous positions” that had been misclassified. More specifically, Lambert wrote that 94 ATF staff members “filled the misclassified positions.”
“This letter, combined with other information I have recently become aware of, raises the possibility of many serious issues related to OPM’s findings that merit greater scrutiny,” Grassley writes. He encloses 13 questions for Ahuja to answer by October 20 and asks him to work with staffers to “schedule a briefing on this matter.” The questions to Ahuja surround the misclassification of ATF employees and also asks about the partial suspension of the ATF’s position classification authority. View Grassley’s letter to Ahuja here.
In Grassley’s letter to the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and ATF Acting Director Marvin Richardson, he asks similar questions as he did to Ahuja about the specifics of the ATF’s misclassification of positions and its suspension of position classification authority. He also asks about inter-agency communication, like one which asks if the Office of Special Counsel has ever contacted the DOJ or ATF about investigating a letter from an ATF whistleblower who alleges they are being retaliated against. Grassley mentions in his letter that this whistleblower was terminated “and that their case is currently before the Merit Systems Protection Board, the body responsible for handling federal whistleblower cases.
This letter also requests an itemized response about “the total value of benefits such as LEAP and enhanced retirement eligibility that were inappropriately provided to misclassified employees.” Like the letter to Ahuja, Grassley requests answers to the 14 questions and the scheduling of a briefing by October 20. Read Grassley’s letter to Garland and Richardson here.
“ATF, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the whole government ought to celebrate whistleblowers, and not just seek to appear to celebrate whistleblowers, as the case appears in this instance,” Grassley writes to Garland and Richardson. “Without whistleblowers, Congress and managers in the Executive Branch of government, not to mention the public, would not find out about mismanagement and government waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Grassley has consistently been an outspoken supporter of whistleblowers and champion of whistleblower issues. Most recently, he sent letters to three nominees to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission urging them to support the agency’s whistleblower program.