GSA Contest to Identify and Reduce Travel Inefficiencies: Eliminate Official Time

According to a recent General Services Administration announcement, the agency is dolling out a combined $90,000 in prizes to individuals who can “design and create an online, interactive tool that utilizes federal travel data to increase transparency and accountability.”

As The Washington Post reports, contestants need to “make recommendations for efficiency rather than simply gathering and displaying data.”

Well, I have a suggestion that could probably save millions of tax dollars annually in travel expenses without reducing efficient delivery of government services.

Every year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to compile a report on union official time and expenses for union representational activities as a condition in the House Committee on Appropriations’ Conference Committee Report 105-205.

Union official time is the practice where government employees are given paid leave to conduct union activities unrelated to their civic duties (an obvious waste of tax dollars). In the FY 2013 SSA official time report, travel and per diem associated with official time cost $700,000; FY 2012 $400,000; and FY 2011 $600,000.

Unfortunately, the federal government does a poor job tracking and recording the costs of official time. The last federal government-wide data on official time is from FY 2011. Worse than the irregularity of official time reporting is the limited data. The Office of Personnel Management report that tracks official time in all agencies does not record and make publicly available the cost of travel related to official time. However, there is no doubt that every agency that grants official time wastes tax dollars paying for travel.

Simply put, the GSA should stop subsidizing union travel that does not serve a public purpose, which would be anything associated with official time, to reduce government travel costs and enhance accountability.

For more on union official time see, here, here, and here.