Readers: Criminal Activity Increasing Among Federal Employees

14% of those taking this poll indicated that there was no change in criminal activity among federal employees. 54% think there has been an increase. Coincidentally, the Dept. of Justice has issued a press release noting that “[p]ublic corruption is a threat to the American form of government.”

Has there been a change in criminal activity among federal employees in recent years?

No doubt, there are more cases reported about problems with criminal activity involving federal employees. Numerous news reports come out during the year about some activity that inevitably results in enriching the person or people involved in the activity.

But is this because there is more news available or is it because more federal employees are involved in criminal activity?

FedSmith asked the question because, as some of us are former federal employees, it seemed as if there are more reported instances of fraud, corruption or criminal activity than in previous decades. Rarely were stories in the press about federal officials who had abused the public trust–at least to the level that led to a prison sentence and/or a substantial fine. Is the increase real or just the perception of an increase?

Coincidentally, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty gave a speech this week at the meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General on the subject of corruption in government.

He addressed the subject of combatting corruption in every aspect of government service. “Why is this commitment so important? Because public corruption, left unchecked, threatens the very form of our system of government. And, more importantly, it threatens the full nature of our cherished liberty.

And that is my message this morning. Public corruption is a threat to the American form of government and the blessings of liberty that flow from it. Therefore, detecting, punishing and deterring public corruption must be a top priority of all law enforcement.”

In other words, if you are a government employee (state, federal or local), paranoia may be appropriate because there is an effort underway in our legal system to publicize, find and prosecute corruption in government.

While some criminal activity appears to involve relatively little money, some federal officials literally control millions or billions of dollars. One example cited by McNulty: “[M]y office prosecuted Darlene Druyun, once a top Air Force acquisition official, who obtained jobs with Boeing for her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, and herself while negotiating major contracts with Boeing. Druyun admitted steering billions of dollars in contracts to Boeing. In her guilty plea, she admitted that she agreed on behalf of the government to pay more for a contract than she believed was appropriate. She referred to it as a “parting gift.”

It is hard to know precisely how much Druyun’s self-dealing cost the government, but consider this: every one million dollars wrongfully spent represents the average amount of taxes paid by nearly 200 American families.”

With that in mind, do readers of believe there has been more criminal activity among federal employees in recent years? Here are the results:

  • 19%: no change
  • 54% yes
  • 14%: no
  • 14%: not sure

This is not a scientific survey so we cannot conclude there has been an increase in criminal activity among those who are serving the public. But, from the written comments sent in by readers, the results are not surprising.

Some readers believe there is definitely an increase in criminal activity. The reasons given for the increase in criminal activity vary from reader to reader.

Here is a small sampling of the comments we received.

Many submitting comments do not think there is an increase in crime among federal employees.

This accountant from the Department of Education in Washington has a typical response: “While the investigators are getting better and the media is exposing more, I doubt that there is more than there always has been. I think there has been a huge increase in criminal activity among members of the Congress, and certainly in private industry businesses.”

A management analyst with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville, MD does see big changes in the federal workforce: “While I did see ‘petty crime’ worsening in a large, downtown DC agency in which I was formerly employed, I do not see that here in this small urban ‘exceptional’ agency. This is still a fine place to work and the people are honest and hard working.”

A management assistant from Ft. Riley, KS attributes the change to more sophisticated tracking capability: “I believe that the judicial system is far more savvy on documenting violations of government regulations–[d]ue in part to the internet.”

An engineering technicial from China Lake says the perceived increase in criminal activity is because of the media: “I don’t believe there is any more criminal activity among federal workers than usual. I do believe that there is more publicity of such incidences by the liberal media and Hollywierd types during Republican administrations.”

A business and industry manager from DCMA in Alexandria, VA comments: “The conditions, graft, and criminal aspects were always there, they are just more visible. Human nature will always facilitate those who want to participate in illegal activities because they have never had or participated in being brought up in a moral state. It makes the older generations wish that modern technology was not available so we would not have to face the reality.”

A human resources specialist from the Army in Washington has this comment: “Federal employees reflect the trends that have evolved in the society they represent. As society has come to accept corruption in their elected officials and each other, why should public employees be different? I may be naive, but I believe most federal employees still hold themselves to a higher standard than the rest of society, but I fear that will not last.”

A program analyst from Mechanisburg, PA thinks e-mail has been a problem for criminals: “Email is the ruin of white collar criminals in both the public and private sectors. The internet is not secure. These criminals discuss their schemes in words that will last forever.”

A National Bank Examiner from Denver sees the media as the source of the perceived increase: “Unfortunately it is the stuff that sells papers and magazines. I don’t think the level has increased only the publication of the facts.”

And a supervisor from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in Loma Linda, CA thinks there has been a decrease in crime in that agency: “It is my belief that criminal activity in the VA is going down. Increased accountability at all levels make theft of property or embezzlement of money difficult. That being said, crime in general seems to be increasing regardless of anyone’s published study.”
A number of readers think there has been an increase in criminal activity and lay the blame on the hiring process.

This comment from a deputy director of DoD in California: “I do believe the ability to report and the ability to find the problems are easier and with the computer systems we all have it just allows these types of problems to come out of the wood work. In addition, a governement job was some thing that people wanted for the security and were willing in to take a little less pay. Today with the down sizing and the budget cuts and doing more with less and not keeping up with pay raises you are not getting the best and the brightest.”

Another federal employee from California in the Bureau of Reclamation has a similiar view: “Federal employees are not always the best paid or get the best benefits or are liked by the public. Despite that, it used to attract the best and the brightest. I do not see that now. Some of the hiring panels I see have very little competition. And lots of my co-workers could probably not get a job on the ‘outside’. This can be very depressing at times.”

This comment is from an employee of the Social Security Administration in Maryland: “[W]rong people are being hired all the time–all in the name of some social engineering project.”

A CSI from the USDA in New York City comments: “Increased information available is a definite factor but also is the fact that we are not getting the best to choose from — just getting a body to fill a slot to make someone’s job easier.”

Other readers see an increase in criminal activity but place the blame on a variety of reasons.

This comment is from a social worker with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in North Chicago, IL: “With the change from CSRS to FERS, longevity in the job and loyalty have disappeared. Also gone is the feeling a federal employee is held to a higher standard. The new standards have given rise to a more pessimistic government employee.”

A program analyst from the Navy in Bremerton, WA wrote: “What ever happened to just being an honest worker? Why do we feel that we are entitled to more? This is a national epidemic that we had better solve.”

A budget analyst from DoD in Portsmouth, VA thinks the change just reflects our society: “I think society has a whole has changed with decreasing morals and values.”

An engineer with the Army at Ft. Campbell, KY says: “The morals of this country have degraded…
It used to be truth justice and the American Way…These days it’s greed, lust and power that are the the driving force.”

A real estate contracting officer with the FAA in Illinois thinks the federal system has changed and created problems: “When I started with the government most employees came in at the entry level GS-5 & worked their way up–now it seems that the few new employees come it at a journeyman level after serving time as a contract employee & there is more on the job informal type training with less knowledgeable supervisors/managers attempting to give direction.”

A revenue agent from the IRS in Ohio sees an increasing problem: “I think dishonesty is increasing not only at work, but everywhere. I have seen an ever increasing trend for taxpayers to bend the law more each year (I began my job in 1987). The attitude seems to be “he’s getting away with it, so why shouldn’t I”? Honesty has definitely taken a slide downhill. More and more we see people we all look up to and should admire (such as elected officials, company officers–Nixon, Enron, etc.) who are being caught more and more in their dishonest, law breaking activites which benefit themselves or their cronies to the detriment of others. These people used to set an example for the common man–this is no longer the case.”

A contracting specialist with the Navy in Mechanisburg, PA has strong feelings on the topic: “YES, YES, YES!!! It is awful and getting worse everyday….

This reader from the Internal Revenue Service in San Francisco welcomes increased prosecution of criminals who happen to work for government: “Happy to see criminals inside the federal government being prosecuted stiffly. They have violated the public trust and make it harder for those who believe in the system.”

And a public affairs assistant from Virginia writes: “I agree with the author – I have been in the Federal Government for over two decades and right or wrong, always believed that federal workers took more pride and had more of an investment in their work than contractors. Sadly, I have been proven wrong, and I think the bigger issue (even besides the Internet) is a loss of civility and common courtesy in upcoming generations. What is becoming of our once-great country? My opinion of course, is also a lack of God-fearing people with good old fashioned VALUES!”

Thanks to all readers who took the time to respond to our latest survey and a special thanks to those that sent in their written comments.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47