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Official Time and Criminal Misconduct by Federal Employees

With under two weeks until Congress must pass an omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, one policy that should be on the chopping block is union official time, a practice that allows federal employees to conduct union business, instead of their public duties, on the taxpayers’ dime. Not only is official time an obvious waste, it also may breed corruption.

Recent analysis at FedSmith.com found that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal government union, led all American federal unions in criminal misconduct from January 2014 to June 2015, with 13 union officials found guilty and three indicted at the time the article was published.

While it is unknown why AFGE leads the pack in criminal misconduct, the little known government union special privilege—official time—may explain some of the union’s proclivity for malfeasance.

Five AFGE union officials found guilty or indicted of criminal activity ranging from embezzling to mail fraud to theft were granted 100 percent union official time, which means they never did any government work while paid by the taxpayer.

As of November 17, 2015, the number of AFGE union officials found guilty is 14 with the conviction of former AFGE president Stephanie Hicks at the Birmingham’s Veterans Affairs Hospital. As The Gasden Times reports:

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced the former president of the federal employees union at the Birmingham’s Veterans Affairs Hospital to six months in prison, plus six months home detention, for embezzling more than $92,000 from the local chapter.

Stephanie Hicks, 44, of Birmingham, pleaded guilty in June to bank fraud and forgery. U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre ordered her to pay $92,000 in restitution to the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2207, AFL-CIO, as part of her sentence.

The wasteful practice has not gone unnoticed by Congress. In the past several sessions, the Federal Employee Accountability Act has been introduced to eliminate the union subsidy. It is estimated that prohibiting official time could save the federal government over $1 billion over 10 years. The number is likely higher due to poor recordkeeping of the practice and calculations used to figure out the cost are inaccurate, according to the Government Accountability Office.

One would hope that Congress would ensure tax dollars promoted the public good, but that is not always the case. At least, there should be some bipartisan support in Congress to seriously examine a use of tax dollars that enables federal employees to commit criminal acts instead of their jobs.