The Doctor Will Release You Now: How Official Time Contributed to the VA Scandal

Socialized medicine and union corruption are a potent combination and, in the case of the VA, a deadly one. The VA scandal has brought the network of hospitals under a national spotlight.

But the troubled hospitals have been joined under the spotlight by a more widespread problem in America: union “official time,” also known as, “release time.”

Kim Strassel of The Wall Street Journal has shed light on how the VA is in a Big Labor choke hold, granting the president of local lodge 1798 of the National Federation of Federal Employees 100 percent “official time,” which effectively means that the president is not really a VA employee since she is not obligated to do any work for the hospital.

But “official” or release time at the VA doesn’t end with the union president. Strassel also tells us that,

Manhattan Institute scholar Diana Furchtgott-Roth recently detailed Office of Personnel Management numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R., Ga.). On May 25, Ms. Furchtgott-Roth reported on MarketWatch that the VA in 2012 paid 258 employees to be 100% “full-time,” receiving full pay and benefits to do only union work. Seventeen had six-figure salaries, up to $132,000. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the VA paid for 988,000 hours of “official” time in fiscal 2011, a 23% increase from 2010.

The fact that so many people are taken away from their jobs at the VA to do union activities, made possible by unknowing US tax-payers, could very well explain why the VA has been putting people on the waiting lists that have ended up killing 23 veterans.

In case anyone thinks that is an unjustified leap, Trey Kovacs reports that,

…in 2013, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wrote a letter to former VA Secretary Eric Shineseki that noted that many VA employees using official time were “nurses, instrument technicians pharmacists, dental assistants and therapists, who were being paid to do union work even as the VA tried to fill hundreds of jobs and paid overtime to other staff.”

In response to this outrage, Florida Rep. Jeff Miller sent a letter to Sloan Gibson, the new Veterans Affairs Secretary, asking him to issue an emergency directive that would get VA employees off union release time and back to work for their actual jobs.

Although the use of official time has been outrageous and costly at the VA, it is systemic in government agencies across the country, on both the state and federal level.

Perhaps the most ridiculous use of official time was given during the government shutdown, when union members were paid their government salaries to do union work while no one was supposed to be working! (See for more on the use of official time during the government shutdown).

This use of official time was especially disgraceful since the Office of Personnel Management had at first forbid its use up until the powerful American Federation of Government Employees “advised OPM that the AFGE disagrees.” Quickly bowing to Big Labor’s wishes, the Obama administration altered its “Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs” so that federal employees could work on paid official time as union representatives during the government shutdown.

It is truly regrettable that the corrupt practice of union official time was not ended before it contributed to the scandal at the VA. Sen. Rand Paul has introduced a bill to end official time, but passage is very unlikely.