Whistleblower says ATF gave bonuses to those who did not qualify

A whistleblower is accusing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of fraud, waste and abuse. CBS News was told the alleged practice could potentially involve hundreds of millions of tax dollars across multiple federal agencies. 

The whistleblower said some in administrative jobs at the agency were paid a special bonus known as law enforcement availability pay, or LEAP, even though they did not qualify. Government regulations stipulate the bonus is reserved for “criminal investigators” who are on call and expected to work unscheduled, additional hours. 

The whistleblower, named Joe, who asked to be disguised and for his last name not to be used, told CBS News he noticed problems at the ATF almost immediately after he began working there in 2016 as an information specialist in the Human Resources department. 

“If you were functioning in an administrative capacity, you don’t qualify for the pay. So you’re not supposed to get it,” he said. “A lot of people were getting it.”

The pay bump was 25%, he said. 

“So, if you were making $100,000 and you got LEAP, you would get $125,000,” he said. 

Joe said he flagged the alleged violations to his supervisors. An ATF email reviewed by CBS News indicates Joe’s supervisors were “upset” about what he told them. 

He shared personnel records with CBS News that indicate his performance reviews went from “fully successful” before he made the complaint to “minimally successful” after. He lost his job last summer for “unacceptable performance.” 

Last year, a lawyer for the Office of Special Counsel said the investigative body found “a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing.” 

An Office of Personnel Management audit concluded at least 94 employees were inappropriately classified. The office “suspended” the ATF’s ability to create certain jobs for “no less than six months,” saying the bureau may have engaged in “prohibited personnel practices.” 

“If it’s true, then it’s a very significant amount of wasted tax dollars,” said former Senate investigator Jason Foster, who has spent his career supporting whistleblowers and reviewed CBS News’ findings. “It could be a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars if the same thing were happening throughout government.”

Four federal agencies involved in Joe’s case declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation. An email from the Office of Special Counsel reviewed by CBS News said the final report is delayed, citing “broad implications” for the ATF.