Today, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced legislation to ensure federal employees working at the Department of Veterans Affairs serve veterans instead of performing union business, unless “all veterans seeking hospital care or medical services from the VA are able to receive an appointment within the 30-day wait-time goal of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.”
Under the practice of “official time,” federal employees continue to receive their salary and benefits while performing union business like attending union conventions, lobbying Congress, and filing grievances. This amounts to a hefty taxpayer-funded subsidy to federal-employee unions to the tune of at least $157 million, with federal employees spending 3.5 million hours per year on union business.
Official time is a scourge on the entire federal workforce, but it is especially problematic at the VA. As a recent Government Accountability Office report found that official time hours and activities performed are not accurately recorded, and in some cases not reported at all.
Worse, while veterans are stuck waiting for care from VA medical centers, the GAO report discovered that at least 340 VA employees spent 100 percent of their day on union business. Many of these 100 percent employees at the VA are supposed to be providing direct care to veterans. Freedom of Information Act requests show that about 85 nurses receive 100 percent official time.
The VA also has one of highest usage of official time in the federal government. According to the latest data available in 2012, VA employees spent over 1 million hours on official time at the cost of $30 million. Since 2008, the hours and costs of official time at the VA have increased 36 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
Sen. Flake said in a press release:
The VA should not pay employees for union work while veterans are forced to wait for medical care. The VA exists to serve veterans and their families, period. If that wasn’t apparent to some VA employees, the Serve Veterans First Act will make it crystal clear.