Federal Government Granted $157 Million Subsidy to Government Unions in FY 2012

When someone is paid to perform services, it should not be considered volunteer work.

Yet, that is exactly how the federal government attempts to legitimize a massive taxpayer-funded subsidy to government unions. The subsidy is known as “official time” and allows federal employees to conduct union business, totally unrelated to their public duties, while paid their regular federal salary.

According to a new Office of Personnel Management report, official time is necessary because membership in federal unions is voluntary and, as a result, federal unions rely on “volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid business agents.”

Conveniently, the federal government forgot that taxpayers pay for these “volunteer hours.” How can official time—paying union representatives for union activities—be considered “volunteer work?” OPM doesn’t say.

But what OPM finally revealed, nearly two years late and after multiple requests from Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), is the amount and cost of official time granted in FY 2012.

In FY 2012, federal employees spent a total of 3,439,449 hours on official time, an increase of 1.3 percent from FY 2011. The cost of official time also increased in FY 2012 to $157,196,468 from around $155 million (note, three federal agencies did not update or confirm its official time numbers–African Development Foundation, National Mediation Board, and the International Water Commission).

Agencies with the most official time costs include the Department of Defense ($13,471,870.86), Department of Homeland Security ($8,153,212.47), Department of Justice ($7,081,368.95), Social Security Administration ($10,927,743.37), Department of Transportation ($17,287,858.07), The Department of Treasury ($25,368,604.46) and Department of Veterans Affairs ($46,868,149.63). See full report, here.

Unfortunately, the OPM numbers do not represent the full cost of official time. Not included in the OPM report is the cost of office space, telephones, supplies, and travel and per diem. These costs, which are not included in OPM’s report, are far from trivial. For instance, according to the Social Security Administration report “FY 2013 Social Security Administration Report on Expenditures for Union Activities,” travel and office space cost an additional $1.8 million.

Official time amounts to nothing more than a wasteful subsidy to federal unions and should be eliminated. Luckily, Rep. Gingrey and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act that would amend the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute to get rid of the section allowing for official time.

For more information, see records of official time granted during the government shutdown here. For more information on official time see here, here, and here.