Grassley Expresses Alarm at Thousands of Federal Workers on Paid Leave for Months

By on October 21, 2014 in Current Events, Pay & Benefits with 38 Comments

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa expressed alarm this week at the findings of a new report, issued at his request, documenting that tens of thousands of federal employees were on paid leave for at least one month and several hundred employees for nine months to three years, over a recent three-year period.

“These employees should be working for the taxpayers, not getting paid to stay home,” Grassley said. “Paid leave is an excuse for managers not to manage and put off a decision on what to do with employees accused of misconduct or who blow the whistle or dispute a personnel action. The mentality seems to be out of sight, out of mind, and that’s not the way to run the government or act responsibly with tax dollars.”

Grassley commented on a report he sought from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that over a three-year period, data covering about 60 percent of all civilian federal employees found that more than 57,000 employees were on paid administrative leave for more than a month, costing $700 million in salary alone, excluding benefits. About 4,000 of the employees were off the job for three months to a year and 263 employees for one to three years. The most common reason cited for periods of extended administrative leave to GAO was “personnel matters” such as investigations into misconduct and “pending administrative actions.”

Grassley said the practice of paid leave has been little-documented until now. He sought the study because of numerous instances of paid leave that came to light through his oversight and investigative work. Sometimes the leave is used to retaliate against a whistleblowing employee, and other times it’s used to distance an agency from an employee accused of misconduct while an investigation drags on, Grassley said.

Separate from the GAO report, examples of paid leave that came across Grassley’s radar include:

  • Multiple employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on paid leave for extended periods during the Fast and Furious inquiry, including one senior manager who went to work for JPMorgan Chase in the Philippines while still drawing a federal paycheck from the taxpayers.
  • Inspector General Paul Brachfeld at the National Archives and Records Administration was put on paid leave against his will for nearly two years before the agency finally proposed to remove him and he chose to retire.
  • The former Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Charles Edwards, who resigned from the inspector general job after a Senate report accused him of yielding to political pressure on the Secret Service prostitution probe, is currently on paid administrative leave and has been for about five months.
  • Lois Lerner was allowed to take paid administrative leave for about four months before retiring from the IRS after pleading the Fifth Amendment in the IRS targeting scandal.

“Paid administrative leave is actually not authorized by any law,” Grassley said. “It’s been allowed over the years as part of ‘agency discretion,’ and this report shows it’s out of control. Agencies need to be held accountable and explain why this much salary is being wasted when this kind of extended leave is not authorized by law. The Office of Personnel Management should be enforcing limits on this kind of unauthorized leave. Abusively long paid leave is corrosive to good government.”

Grassley is planning follow-up actions, such as letters of inquiry to the agencies included in the report, and considering bipartisan legislation to limit paid leave.

Federal Paid Administrative Leave: Additional Guidance Needed to Improve OPM Data

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