This week Senator Rob Portman and Sen. Tom Coburn sent a letter to the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs with a message that applies equally to the employees of every other federal agency:
“It is essential that every VA employee is dedicated 100 percent to our nation’s mission of providing the best healthcare to our veterans in a timely manner.”
The problem is government policy obstructs public servants from dedicating 100 percent of their time to serving the public.
Worse, numerous government employees never perform the official civic duties they are hired to conduct. The practice, known as “Official Time,” allows federal employees, whose salary is fully paid with your tax dollars, to carry out union business totally unrelated to their official government obligations.
The letter reveals that 188 VA employees were on 100 percent official time during the time period from January 1, 2012 through February 2013. Meaning these federal officials never care for the Veterans they were hired to serve. As Sen. Coburn and Portman point out:
“During this time of sequestration and tight budgets, it is important to know how so many employees can be spared to serve the interest of outside groups, instead of carrying out jobs that are essential to the health, safety and transition of our nation’s veterans.”
Unfortunately, the VA Department is not the only agency to relieve its employees of their duties to conduct private business for a special interest group.
At Workplacechoice.org we have discovered the Social Security Administration issues a report, “Social Security Administration Report Concerning Expenditures for Union Activities” which provides detailed information regarding its official time use within the agency.
In FY 2011, the SSA employed 22 individuals who worked on 100 percent official time and 17 in 2012. In addition, its employees spent 229, 195 hours on official time in 2011 and 247,563 in 2012. When including salary, benefits, travel/per diem, office space and arbitration expenses the total cost of official time at the SSA is $12.7 and $14.3 million in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Besides the fact that official time is utter government waste, these SSA official time reports reveals another concern; the government cannot even accurately compile the costs of the subsidy. As my intern Alex Habighorst and I write in The Washington Examiner :
“There appears to be an approximately $2 million discrepancy in the cost of employees' salaries and benefits for official time in fiscal 2011 reported by OPM and the SSA.
According to the 2011 Social Security Administration's "Report on Expenditures for Union Activities," the dollar value of employees' compensation for official time is listed at $11.2 million and time spent on union business at 229,195 hours.
OPM reports the same number of hours in its report, "Official Time Usage in the Federal Government," but states that they only cost the SSA $9.9 million in salary and benefits.
That discrepancy alone amounts to more than $1 million. If the cost of travel, office space and arbitration expenses incurred by the public for federal employees on official time were included (OPM does not report these costs), the difference between the reports jumps to approximately $2.8 million.”
Fortunately, some elected officials understand that official time needs to end. In both the Senate and House the Federal Employee Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 107, S. 785) has been introduced, which would simply eliminate the practice of union official time in the federal government.
Which makes it "officially" a good idea.