Last Friday afternoon, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released its biennial report, “Official Time Usage in the Federal Government—Fiscal Year 2014.”
The survey uses a flimsy methodology to calculate how much time federal employees spend performing union business instead of serving the taxpayer. In FY 2014, federal employees spent 3,468,170 hours on official time, at a total cost of $162,522,763.18—a $5 million dollar increase from FY 2012. Unfortunately, union official time undoubtedly costs more than the report suggests.
A 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticized OPM’s methodology for estimating official time. In short, OPM does not use the actual salaries of federal employees on official time to come up with the cost. GAO estimates that using a better methodology, official time costs could increase by as much as 15 percent. More recently, a GAO report on official time at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finds that the agency’s record keeping of official time is subpar. GAO found the VA did not accurately keep—and in some cases not report—official time usage.
Despite OPM’s “Official Time Usage in the Federal Government” serious shortcomings, it is still the best information currently available. Below are some of the worst offending federal agencies that pay federal employees to lobby on behalf of their union, attend union conventions, and perform other union business instead of fulfilling the mission of the agency:
- Department of Defense: $13,825,779.59/335,477.31 hours
- Department of Homeland Security: $11,170,157.43/275,895.75 hours
- Department of Justice: $10,587,007.50/265,126.25 hours
- Department of Veterans Affairs: $48,640,351.72/1,093,714.00 hours
- Social Security Administration: $10,938,589.43/246,893.00 hours
- Treasury Department: $23,524,084.62/504,293.00 hours
To bring greater transparency to the cost and activity performed on official time, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) has introduced H.R. 1293, which requires “the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) 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.”
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) has introduced another bill, the Official Time Reform Act (H.R. 1364), this session, to end the practice of using official time to engage in union political activity while being paid by the taxpayer. In addition, the bill “would prohibit federal employees who spend 80 percent or more of their time on official time from counting that as creditable service under the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employee Retirement System and from receiving bonuses.”
If the Trump administration is serious about cutting wasteful spending, official time is low-hanging fruit that should be on the chopping block. Official time only serves the interests of federal employee unions and does not serve any public purpose.