One of the tradeoffs West Virginia state employees make in exchange for being able to retire earlier than most in the private sector is an agreement they will not "double dip." That is, if they decide after retiring to go back to work for state government, their pension checks can be cut if paychecks exceed certain amounts. It is a reasonable restriction.
Through the years, some retired public employees have tried to game the system. One popular method has been to retire from a position, begin collecting a pension, then go back to precisely the same job - but as a "private contractor" rather than a state employee. That way, pension benefits are not reduced if earnings exceed a limit.
Legislative auditors say it may have happened again. This time, three employees in the state Development Office are involved. One retired from the agency in 2009, another in 2010 and the third last year.
But all three people still work for the Development Office. Now, however, they are not on the payroll but are listed as contractors. Each of the three earns more than the $15,000 maximum allowed for a retiree to keep a full pension if he chooses to go back to work for the government.
The arrangement smells to the high heavens, as a legislative audit report pointed out. "We believe agencies are utilizing this 'loophole' to rehire employees through contracts, so the worker's retirement annuity will not be affected," the report accused.
A Development Office official said the three contracts will be phased out, according to a published report. It should be noted the decision was made after auditors spotted the scheme.
Double dipping should not be permitted in any government agency. Obviously, it will be up to legislative auditors to catch those involved, since some in the executive branch don't seem to see a problem with the practice.