DHS Leads Agencies With 71 Employees on Administrative Leave for More Than 1 Year

The use and abuse of administrative leave in federal agencies is the subject of two bills in Congress.

The Senate bill (S.2450) is given a 58% chance of passage by Govtrack.us and has bipartisan support. A similar bill has been introduced in the House (HR 4359) and has been referred out of committee to the full House.

Administrative leave is the term used when an agency continues to pay an employee’s salary but the employee does not report for work and is considered to be on “administrative leave”.

A new report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) may improve the chances of a bill passing Congress to restrict the use of administrative leave. The latest GAO report on this issue involved the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GAO found that between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, 116 Department of Homeland Security employees were on administrative leave because of personnel issues for one year or more. The estimated salary cost totaled about $19.8 million for this period.

Of the 116 employees on administrative leave:

  • 69 employees (59 percent) were for matters related to misconduct allegations,
  • 28 employees (24 percent) were for matters related to fitness for duty issues, and
  • 19 employees (or 16 percent) were for matters related to security clearance investigations.

As of September 30, 2015, DHS reported that of these 116 employees:

  • 68 employees (59 percent) were separated from the agency,
  • 32 employees (28 percent) were back on duty,
  • 2 employees (2 percent) were on indefinite suspension, and
  • 14 employees (12 percent) remained on administrative leave.

Previously, the GAO reported that between fiscal years 2011 and 2013, 4,281 federal employees were on administrative leave for 3 months or more and that 263 of these employees were on this type of leave for 1 year or more. The estimated salary cost for these employees while on administrative leave was about $31 million during this 3-year period.

DHS was the leader with 71 of its employees on administrative leave for one year or more—more than any other federal agency.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has previously stated that “Paid administrative leave is actually not authorized by any law. 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.”

The GAO found that several factors contribute to the long administrative leave periods during which an employee continues to receive pay and benefits but is not working for the federal government. These factors include:

  1. Adverse action legal procedural requirements and the length of time needed for completing investigations related to misconduct, fitness for duty, or security clearance issues;
  2. Limited options other than administrative leave; and
  3. Agency inefficiencies in resolving administrative leave cases as expeditiously as possible.

It is too soon to know if the latest report documenting long periods of administrative leave for a number of federal employees will have an impact on bills to restrict the use of this process in agencies.

Use of Administrative Leave in DHS Analyzed by GAO

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

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About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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