Curtailing Use of ‘Official Time’ in VA Will Benefit Veterans Care

A recent op-ed in The Hill by Jeff Shapiro, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees’ Veterans Affairs Council, (“A true labor-management partnership at the VA,” June 5) criticizes a legislative proposal that would curtail use of “official time,” paid time off for federal employees to perform union business.

Despite reports that thousands of veterans have died waiting for care, Mr. Shapiro says that VA employees performing union business instead of treating veterans is “not detrimental to the public interest.”

It is hard to imagine how hundreds of VA employees, including doctors and nurses, who spend 100 percent of their time on union business (official time) serves the public interest. Official time is used to negotiate union contracts, lobby Congress and attend union conventions. These activities serve the narrow interests of federal employee unions.
Shapiro goes on to say that official time at the VA is used as a “mechanism for the advancement of veteran care.” But a recent Government Accountability Office report shows that official time is not properly tracked and, for a large part, no one is quite sure how much time VA employees spend on official time, what they are doing, or its cost.

If official time were so beneficial to the agency and advanced veteran care, then why does NFFE oppose legislation that would require annual accounting of activity occurring on official time? Seemingly, this would be a great resource to the NFFE in which it could highlight the benefits of official time to veterans.

Originally posted to The Hill.