Feinstein in the News

By Erika I. Ritchie

Originally published in The Orange County Register.

U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein have asked Pentagon officials to waive thousands of dollars the federal government is demanding from civilian police officers serving at Camp Pendleton and Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook, after the officers were overpaid due to a nine-year accounting glitch.

In a letter sent Tuesday, April 3 to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Harris and Feinstein ask that the collection process be halted immediately.

“Given that these officers received excess pay as a result of an administrative error made nearly a decade ago, we believe the Department’s efforts to claw back these funds now is unfair,” the letter states.

About 100 civilian officers began receiving letters March 23 demanding they pay back money they were overpaid between 2008 and 2016 due to the error. Plans for payback — either in full or incrementally — were demanded by April 28.

Individual debts range from $12,000 to $80,000. The average overpayment was $3,500 annually, according to Robert Richey, president of the police officer’s union, the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Due to an accounting error, federal officials say, the officers had been paid on the wrong pay scale.

The Navy Office of Civilian Human Resources – which determines the rate of pay for their employees – found an erroneous locality-based pay rate had been used to set pay for some employees for a period of time, said Steve Burghardt, spokesman for DFAS.

In April 2017, the police officers were notified by the Department of Defense’s Finance and Accounting Services – charged with processing payroll for civilians working for the Department of the Navy – that the error had been discovered. They were told they would be required to return some amount, but exactly how much was unknown until an audit was conducted.

“Navy OCHR processed actions to correct the error, resulting in employees showing as overpaid and placing them in a debt status,” Burghardt said.

Lt. Brad Ducat, 48, who oversees the 60 police officers and a contingent of Marines at Camp Pendleton who work with the police department, owes nearly $40,000. He said the senators’ effort offers some hope.

“Now that we have congressional and senate attention, it feels like someone actually cares,” he said Tuesday. “I know this is a process but when there is someone to support you, it makes it a little easier.”

In the letter, Harris and Feinstein highlight incidents that have occurred on bases around the nation and called the effort to garnish the wages “appalling.”

They point to an instance on Feb. 14 when a car crashed through the main gate of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, where three people were injured, including a base police officer; and to another incident on March 22, when an unauthorized vehicle breached the gate at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California and exploded.

“In both of these cases, the police and security at the gate risked their lives serving as the first line of defense for the service-members on base,” the letter said.

Sgt. Matt Hughes, 38, of Mission Viejo, who has worked for the Provost Marshal’s Office at Camp Pendleton since 2009, said the letter was encouraging.

“It has felt like no one has been there to help us,” he said Tuesday. “It’s relieving that there is attention to this and that a positive resolution could be possible.

“We have regular police stuff but then the concern of the military base being a target as well,” he added.