Last week brought news that another Booz Allen Hamilton employee was accused of improperly removing sensitive material from the National Security Agency (NSA). Harold Thomas Martin III was charged with theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials. The government alleges Martin took documents and digital files containing information that, if disclosed, “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”
It was another black eye for Booz Allen, which was NSA surveillance program whistleblower Edward Snowden’s employer. It was equally embarrassing for the U.S. intelligence community, which pays contractors like Booz Allen billions of dollars each year to help run its global operations and keep a tight lid on our country’s more sensitive secrets.
Just days after the Harold Martin story broke, U.S. intelligence contractors were again in the spotlight. On Sunday, VICE News reporter Jason Leopold posted hundreds of pages of Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) investigative reports. The documents contain the juicy—and occasionally disturbing—details of misconduct investigations conducted by the ICIG, the watchdog office that oversees the federal intelligence agencies. Most of the cases involved employees of Booz Allen and other prominent contractors.
Specifically, the documents contain dozens of instances when contractor employees fudged their timesheets, billing the government for time they were not at work or when they engaged in activities either personal in nature or outside the scope of the contract. The heavily redacted pages include 38 substantiated cases of contractor overbilling, amounting to a total loss to the government of more than $2.5 million. A few particularly egregious cases stand out:
- A Booz Allen employee falsely charged 123.5 hours from October 2013 to September 2014 for a total overcharge of $10,706. He admitted he would leave work early and bill an additional 15 to 30 minutes of time “to round out his hours for the day,” according to the ICIG.
- Another Booz Allen employee falsely billed 304.5 hours from October 2013 to July 2014 at a total cost of $35,508.
- An SAIC employee “improperly and excessively” used the internet at the National Counterterrorism Center for such non-work activities as sending instant messages to friends, checking online dating sites, and viewing images of “scantily clad or naked women.” The ICIG estimated that, between 2006 and 2012, the employee spent approximately 95 percent of his Internet usage time—more than 10,000 hours—for personal purposes, costing taxpayers more than $925,000.
- Another SAIC employee used his government computer to engage in sex chats “on a near daily basis” between May 2010 and July 2013. The ICIG was unable to quantify the amount of the mischarge.
- A MITRE Corporation engineer billed the government for 665 hours—at $141.74 per hour—when she was not at her worksite. She also used her government internet account for personal purposes for 117 hours. These were not innocent mistakes: the ICIG found she had violated federal fraud laws.
- A Maverick LLC employee billed $24,400 for almost 169 hours of unaccounted-for time between April and September 2012. During an interview with the ICIG, he admitted to sending sexually explicit emails to his wife over a government computer and billing the government for that time.
The ICIG also found that some contractor employees, while working on extremely sensitive intelligence programs and operations, risked exposing classified information by using non-secure networks and computers. They did so while working for some of the government’s most trusted private sector partners: Booz Allen and SAIC are among only a handful of private firms that collectively employ nearly all of the intelligence community’s contractor workforce.
The implications of the VICE News revelations are enormous. Not only did the contractor employees rip off taxpayers, they also compromised national security. The ICIG reports bolster POGO’s concern that contractor timesheet fraud is especially rampant among intelligence programs due to a lack of transparency and insufficient contract oversight. However, they also give us a reason to be optimistic: they show that the intelligence watchdog takes its role seriously and doggedly pursues allegations of wrongdoing.