Interesting Twists in OPM’s Official Time Report

The author raises some questions about the validity of this year’s official time report.

OPM has posted its report on union official time use.  We’ve reported on this in prior years pointing out inconsistencies.  As Congress and the President argue over sequestration, furloughs of Federal employees and perhaps RIFs, no examination has been forthcoming of the virtual 100% subsidy of federal employee unions through the payment of official time and operating expenses.  Unions got excluded from corporate taxes starting in 1909.  The IRS classifies unions as 501(c)(5) organizations, in other words, each is a private sector entity.

So OPM tells us (if you believe the numbers, I don’t) that Agencies reported 3,395,187 hours used, a clearly low ball figure again this year.  So, if one turns a critical eye on the OPM report, one may find some interesting twists.

TWIST #1 – FLRA did not submit a report or, if it did, OPM didn’t include it.

Despite specific exclusion from the federal employee statute, FLRA extra legally (without authorization of the Congress) recognizes a union of its alleged neutral workforce and spends at least some official time money consulting with that union.  Hey, FLRA IG, are you awake?

TWIST #2 – The report appears to advance a political position.

Is the following statement, in the report’s intro, true or a broadcast of a political position?  Judge for yourself:

“Membership in labor unions is therefore entirely voluntary for Federal employees and, as a result, there are fewer incentives for Federal employees to join and pay union dues than there are for private sector and many state and local government employees. This voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents, to represent the union in representational matters such as collective bargaining and grievances.”

I have never seen a Federal employee union representative engage in any volunteer union work.  In fact, I have been at a bargaining table on a number of occasions with a mediator when the union reps took off at the end of their regular duty hours lest they spend any of their own time on representing the workforce.

TWIST #3 – The Department of Defense allegedly has less official time use than the National Gallery of Art

According to the report, and this will be a big surprise to DOD labor specialists, DOD uses .79 hours per unit employee while the National Gallery uses 2.73.  Get real.  So what is real?  Assuming Treasury at 7.02 per employee and DVA at 4.02 are accurate (a big IF, by the way), and DOD is somewhere in the middle of those two, we end up with 5.5 per DOD unit employee.  For 2011, DOD reported 355,029.48 hours used.  If the figure was 5.5 versus .79 per employee, the hours used would more correctly be 2,485,696.36.  Which figure is closer to the truth, you decide.  Even more interesting is that this is based on 451,000 civilian employees in DOD.  In 2010, DOD claimed it had 772,601 total employees.  DOD is virtually 100% organized so let’s assume that 80% are in units.  If so, then that equates to 618,081 unit employees and if the rate is 5.5 hours per employee, a truer figure yet might be 3,399,445.5.  This, by itself, is more time than the report lists for everybody.  In other words, the report is probably totally unreliable.

TWIST #4 How much time is really used and what does it cost?

If DOD is as wrong as the above, my bet is the actual time use is closer to 15-20 million hours for all Agencies which, when one considers an OPM’s figure of $46/hour, actually costs between $700,000,000 and $900,000,000 for  official time alone.

What’s the lesson?

Mark Twain allegedly reported that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.  OPM takes the position that it relies on the data submitted and makes no guarantee of its accuracy but apparently takes a political position on the union’s need for official time, so is OPM a liar, a damn liar or a statistician, I wish I knew.

As always, any opinion anyone squeezes an opinion out of the above, it is solely my responsibility.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.