‘Official time’ cost taxpayers more than $1 billion for the fiscal year 2017…
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) During a Thursday House Oversight Committee hearing on the use of “official time” by federal unions, subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., released a memo revealing that nearly 1,000 employees “are being paid for work they were not hired to do, without doing the work they were hired to do.”
Official time is paid time off for federal employees to represent a union and its employees during work hours, in lieu of their regular duties.
The federal government is required to compensate employees on official time.
The Office of Personnel Management estimated the payroll costs for employees who logged official time in the fiscal year 2016 estimated to $177.2 million.
But official time likely costs taxpayers more than this because official time is under-reported and not tracked carefully by the unions.
“All of the costs have never been accurately reported. Federal unions pay nothing inside agencies to represent employees. When they walk in the door, their offices, their official time, their travel, it’s all paid for by the taxpayers,” Bob Gilson, a labor and employee relations consultant, told Congress during his testimony on Thursday.
In the memo, Meadows said part of the problem is that federal agencies “lack a simple, consistent system for recording official time.”
Of the 24 agencies asked to produce information regarding their official time logs, only one did so by the Jan. 22 deadline.
Beyond that, the agencies submitted “inconsistent” data sets.
“Problems with official time, other than poor record keeping, have been recognized by administrations from both political parties,” Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said during the hearing.
The House last year passed a bill (HR-1293) to get a full account of official time, including how many employees spend most or all of their working hours representing union interests, and the value of workspaces federal agencies provide unions.
The OPM has defended union workers’ right to official time, however, saying it is “a core component of the federal government’s carefully crafted collective bargaining system,” and that the Civil Service Reform Act protects official time because it is “in the public interest.”
“Our office will continue exploring opportunities to identify useful practices for monitoring and reporting on the use of official time and sharing these practices with agencies across the government to assist agencies in strengthening internal controls and increasing transparency, accountability, and accuracy,” OPM Director Jeff Pon said during the hearing.
Unions argue official time is a tiny percent of the overall federal payroll, and that it’s mostly used during lengthy negotiations over matters that would otherwise result in formal complaints.
But Meadows’s memo revealed that official time cost taxpayers more than $1 billion for the fiscal year 2017.
In some agencies, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 50 percent of their employees were compensated for official time.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs reported 472 employees were on 100 percent official time, which means these employees did not perform the job for which they were hired,” the memo read.
During his testimony, Kovacs said Congress should pass legislative reform to keep federal unions accountable.
If the unions won’t regulate the use of official time, he said, then Congress should.
The unions contend official time is necessary because federal unions are required by law to represent nonmembers who do not pay dues.
Kovacs said a simple solution would be to pass legislation lifting the legal requirement for federal unions to represent nonmembers.
This would eliminate the need for official time, he said.
“Membership and representation by a union should be voluntary,” Kovacs said. “Nonmembers should not be forced to work under a union-negotiated agreement they do not want, and unions should not be forced to represent employees that do not pay dues.”
Gilson said the Civil Service Reform Act, which protects the right to official time, has turned into a “Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.”
“No one knows what official time costs,” he said. “No one.”