One of the great workplace revolutions of the last few decades has been the realization that an employee’s productivity shouldn’t be measured by the amount of time spent at their desk. But government agencies have been a bit slower to recognize this sea change.
So much so that the inspector general of the Securities and Exchange Commission accused a software developer in the world of finance of “attendance fraud”—because he can’t account for the 1,200 hours he worked, and for which he was paid $125,000, The Wall Street Journal is reporting (paywall).
As it happens, nothing will happen to this person. The SEC can’t itself bring charges, but the employee was referred to federal prosecutors, who declined to pursue the case “based on insufficient dollar loss and potential venue challenges.”
While the inspector general’s report (pdf) doesn’t name the employee, the WSJ identified him as Erozan Kurtas, an examiner who analyzed the trading patterns of hedge funds and other money managers.
Kurtas, who has an MBA and a PhD, was hired from Seagate Technology, part of a new breed of SEC employee with private-sector experience recruited to breathe new life into the regulator. He developed software, called National Exam Analytics Tool, or NEAT, that lets the agency process reams of trading data and identify anomalies that might indicate insider trading. In a 2014 speech, SEC chair Mary Jo White said the tool made the agency vastly more efficient.
But while Kurtas’s programming wizardry was winning the praise of his superiors, his colleagues noticed he wasn’t in the office much, and complained. Managers checked his login records and discovered he was often late, or absent. Kurtas left the SEC last year and now works for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Quartz attempted to contact his attorney, Judith Germano, who did not return our emails.
To be fair, we do not know if Kurtas was given permission to work remotely or there are other extenuating circumstances. And they had reason to be suspicious —the inspector general also accused him of overcharged the agency $400 for commuting benefits he wasn’t entitled to.
Rooting out fraud and waste in government agencies is a laudable goal. But so, too, is acknowledging that office norms are changing. That’s opened corporate America, and particularly the tech world, to a wider array of working options—telecommuting, flexible schedules, unlimited vacation time, and the acceptance that some workers need less time to get the same task done as others.
Great work can be done at home or on the beach as easily as in the office. If the government wants to attract talented knowledge workers, it might consider changing its expectations.