A group of five National Security Agency contractors falsified their time sheets to claim they had worked almost 200 days that agency investigators concluded they in fact had not, according to the agency's inspector general.
The incident was one of more than 100 in which the NSA's internal watchdog found that civilian employees and contractors claimed falsely that they'd been at work — incidents that a spokesman said cost the surveillance outfit based at Fort Meade almost $3.5 million.
The NSA disclosed the cases in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Baltimore Sun. The records cover five years ending in 2014, when The Sun request was originally filed.
A handful of cases were prosecuted in federal court. But the newly released records show the problems were far more widespread.
Investigators in the agency's inspector general's office reported they substantiated allegations in 44 "civilian time and attendance cases" and 68 "contractor labor mischarging cases."
In some cases, they concluded, workers lied about working hundreds of hours before being caught.
In the case of the five contractors, their employers were unaware of the falsifications, the investigators wrote in an internal memo.
The worst offender, James Edward Jackson, claimed he worked 834 hours that he hadn't. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 days in prison in 2009.
Michael T. Halbig, an NSA spokesman, said the agency takes steps to uncover fraud, and shares substantiated cases of misconduct with its workforce to serve as a deterrent.
The agency has recovered 80 percent of the money lost to the fraud, he said.
Some of the documents mention a special initiative the inspector general's office set up to pursue cases of overcharging.
That program no longer exists, Halbig said, and an effort to analyze data to catch fraud had mixed results.
But he said the agency has recently expanded its efforts to spot indications that fraud is taking place.
"We continually evaluate how we identify, evaluate and investigate potential fraud," Halbig said.
Neil Gordon, who studies misconduct by government contractors at the Project on Government Oversight, said the secrecy surrounding the NSA and other intelligence agencies might make the problems worse.
"Contractor time sheet fraud may be rampant among intelligence programs due to a lack of transparency and insufficient contract oversight," he said. "But the investigative documents also give us hope that the intelligence community watchdog takes its role seriously, and doggedly pursues and punishes allegations of wrongdoing."
The NSA has moved to tighten up oversight of its workers in recent years, following the theft of reams of classified documents by agency contractor Edward Snowden and other leaks.
The effectiveness of those efforts was called into question after federal prosecutors in Baltimore filed charges against another contractor. Harold T. Martin III is accused of stealing vast amounts of sensitive information and stashing it at his Glen Burnie home.