Bringing Transparency to Union Subsidies

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) have co-sponsored legislation this session to ensure reporting of federal employees using “official time,” the practice of the government paying federal employees who are serving as union representatives instead of performing their official, federal duties.

As Rep. Ross put it, “This bill will require the Office of Personnel Management to submit an annual, detailed report to Congress on the use of ‘official time’ by federal employees, outlining specific types of activities or purposes for which this time was granted.”

“Ross’ bill was brought into the ‘Government Reform and Improvement Act’ which passed on a party lines vote early Thursday morning,” reported the Sunshine State News.

Currently, the latest report on official time produced by OPM is from fiscal year 2012. Since the reports are years behind, Rep. Ross and Hice are proposing their bill to make official time use more transparent and demand annual reporting of the union subsidy. Costs of official time in fiscal year 2012 were over $157 million.

But it is not just the delayed reporting of official time that make better transparency necessary. The Government Accountability Office questions the accuracy of the OPM’s estimates of official time costs. GAO estimates certain agencies underestimated costs by 9-15%. Other analysis shows OPM’s official time reporting is inaccurate.

This data can be broken down by department, as outlined in a previous post, but those figure only capture the amount of money spent on federal employees who spend 100% of their time working for their union rather than the public. This amounts to hundreds of federal employees taking time off to preform union, not civic, duties. Criminal misconduct by federal employees on official time, has also been found.

Outside of Ross’ bill to improve annual reporting of official time, other legislation, like that sponsored by Rep. Hice, seeks to curb the practice. Official time is not just a problem at the federal level, but also something that impacts state budgets as well. CEI’s Trey Kovacs has been delving into the issue with official time studies published by the Capital Research Center and the Yankee Institute.

More work on the subject can be found here, here, here, and here.