Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were placed on a "disproportionate" amount of paid administrative leave, with many out of work for four months or more while collecting a government paycheck.
The EPA often did not keep records of why employees were sent home with pay for such long stretches, according to an inspector general report released Monday.
Administrative leave is supposed to provide a brief reprieve for government employees while their agency investigates alleged misconduct or poor performance.
"We do not consider 4 months or more to be a brief absence," the EPA inspector general wrote in the report.
For example, one employee was placed on leave in March 2010 and recommended for termination in April of that year. But the employee spent eight months on paid leave before he was actually fired, collecting a paycheck the entire time.
The only reasoning for the lengthy leave time was a memo in the staff member's file "noting that the employee was placed on administrative leave until further notice."
"An 8-month period of administrative leave is significant and, thus, the agency should document actions to explain why such an extended period was justified," the EPA watchdog warned.
The issue of questionable paid leave at the EPA garnered national attention after more than one employee was caught watching pornography at work and placed on paid leave rather than terminated while an ill-defined investigation into the incidents proceeded.
In one example cited by the inspector general, an EPA employee "sent a hostile email and made inappropriate statements that caused anxiety and disruption in the workplace."
His or her coworkers complained to managers that they feared for their safety after reading the email.
The EPA quickly proposed firing the unnamed employee and placed him or her on paid leave. However, appeals and bureaucratic hang-ups allowed the employee to remain on the agency's payroll for more than four years before he or she was finally terminated.
The employee had racked up complaints that included "having work performance issues, failure to follow supervisor instructions on submittal of timesheets and leave requests, and being AWOL."
Another employee earned money for 300 hours of administrative leave after disappearing for 17 days without warning. The EPA later discovered the employee was "AWOL" because he or she had been in jail during that period for violating probation related to "intentionally engaging in sexual contact with a child younger than 17 years."
The EPA has faced questions about its abuse of the paid leave program in the past.
A Government Accountability Office report released last year indicated 69 EPA employees had taken at least a month of administrative leave over the previous two years, racking up more than 4,000 days of paid leave time between them.