Growing Support for Curbs on Administrative Leave in Agencies

Support is growing in Congress for putting restrictions on how agencies use administrative leave for federal employees. Here is a summary of what is behind the interest and a summary of a recent bill that has moved forward in Congress this week.

Congress is not happy about how agencies use administrative leave.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has previously cited figures from 18 agencies that concluded they spent about $80.6 million to place employees on paid administrative leave for one month or more in fiscal year 2014.  The Senator also noted that this figure might be too low because of imprecise calculations provided by some agencies. His report also noted 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.

The Senator has also been quoted as follows: “Paid leave shouldn’t be a crutch for management to avoid making tough personnel decisions or a club for wrongdoers to use against whistleblowers.”

How agencies use administrative leave was on the top of the list of a government “Wastebook” citing examples of how agencies used administrative leave. According to Wastebook: “While administrative leave is intended to be used sparingly for limited periods of time, for many it has become a paid vacation lasting months and even years. More than 1,000 federal employees were on paid leave for at least six months and hundreds were given paid absences from work for a year or more. Nearly 60,000 federal employees received paid leave for an entire month or more over a two year period in addition to vacation time and paid holidays.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has also concluded that about $775 million was spent by the government on more than 57,000 employees who were on paid administrative leave for more than a month.

With this background, it is not surprising that administrative leave has captured attention in Congress.

Oftentimes, bills that would place restrictions on how agencies manage their organizations die a quiet death in a committee after a brief flurry of press releases and press conferences.

The Administrative Leave Act of 2016, however, is gaining traction. On February 10th, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs referred the bill to the full chamber for consideration. About one in four bills are reported out of committee. notes that the chances of this bill becoming law have now moved up to 58%. The bill is bipartisan and co-sponsored by three Republicans and two Democrats.

The Administrative Leave Act of 2016 (S. 2450) would do the following:

  • Defines administrative leave as being separate from other forms of paid leave or excused absence.
  • Requires agencies to record other forms of legislatively authorized excused absence separately from administrative leave.
  • Creates new categories of leave, investigative or notice leave, separate from administrative leave, for extended excused absences due to personnel matters, in the rare instances during an investigation or when an adverse action is proposed and that employee needs to be out of the office.
  • Allows agencies to use investigative or notice leave through a multiple step process that involves escalating controls over its use.
  • Establishes that in all cases, agencies cannot use investigative or notice leave unless established criteria are met — the continued presence of the employee may pose a threat to the employee or others, result in the destruction of evidence relevant to an investigation, result in loss of or damage to government property, or otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests.
  • Directs agencies to consider options prior to use of investigative leave and notice leave, such as assigning the employee to duties in which the employee is no longer a threat or allowing the employee to telework.
  • Requires agencies to provide employees with explanations of why they are being placed on investigative leave or notice leave and keep records of these new forms of leave.

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. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47