OPM’s Official Time Report: Some Wonderfully Amazing Numbers

OPM has issued its latest report on official time use in agencies. The author looks at some of the numbers and some of the questions that they raise.

Since I’ve written about the laughable under-reporting of official time before, I won’t bore you with a repeat except to say I believe, based on my work for Agencies in 2014, that the number is actually closer to $500,000,000 or more. Of course, this doesn’t include the time union reps spent involved in forums or other “cooperative pre-decisional involvements” under the Obama executive order.

OPM’s report has some really interesting numbers to crunch as it stands, accurate or not.

How Much are Union Reps Paid by Taxpayers to Represent Employees?

According to the report:

  • The average union representative makes $41.31 per hour. Based on 2087 hours in a Federal work year, that’s $86,276.58 or, according to OPM’s GS pay scale without geographic additions, on average a GS-13, Step 7.
  • The highest paid union reps work at the Securities and Exchange Commission and earn $74.57 per hour. That’s $155,627.59 and equivalent to a GS-15, Step 10. SEC has the equivalent of three of these folks working as union representatives full time.
  • The Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Merit Systems Protection Board pay their union reps $67.31 ($140,000/yr.) and $64.64 ($135,000/yr.) per hour respectively.
  • Ten Agencies pay their union reps between $50 and $60 per year or about $104,000 to $125,000. That’s GS-13, Step 8 to GS-14 Step 8.
  • OPM says there are about 1.2 million Federal employees represented by unions. If OPM’s numbers are right (silly of me), unions spent about 3 hours or $124 of your tax dollars representing each of them individually in salary costs alone.

Outside of DC, where the classification system is sometimes actually applied, I don’t think I ever met more than a very few GS-13s who weren’t supervisors or managers or high level professionals. GS 14s and 15s in the field actually run the government out there as SESers are rarer than hen’s teeth and usually have jobs titled director or similar.

How is the Money Spent?

  • According to the report, union representatives spent their time as follows:
    • 5% bargaining contracts
    • 7% bargaining mid-contract issues
    • 8% resolving disputes
    • 78% doing something else (OPM called it General-Labor Management Relations.)

Now, those who read my articles know I’m a nosy guy about some things, and the last number in the list above really got my attention. If union representatives are not bargaining or resolving disputes, what the heck are they doing for 78% of their taxpayer subsidized time?

  • Another interesting stat is the number of hours per employee spent at a given Agency:
    • The apparent hotbeds of activity high to low (relatively) are:
      • Department of Justice 7.68 hrs/ee
      • Broadcast Board of Governors 7.6 hrs/ee
      • National Labor Relations Board 7.57 hrs/ee
      • Railroad Retirement Board 7.23 hrs/ee
      • Department of Housing and Urban Development 7.06 hrs/ee
    • Despite a complex mission and intense outside scrutiny and hard work demands:
      • Veterans Affairs used 3.98 per worker
    • The stats that reflect the silliness of the data accuracy best are that the Department of Defense unions claimed to have used .84 hours per employee and Health and Human Services .75.
    • The Peace Corps must be as only .24 hours were used per employee.

As you read the above, you realize that these numbers mean very little or nothing due to their obvious inconsistency. Sure, the hours will fluctuate, but not as wildly as the report indicates.

What’s the Lesson in This?

In 1978, when the law allowing Agencies to subsidize unions was passed, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the Federal unions over their obligation to represent employees who don’t have to pay dues.

Even if the numbers in the report are accurate, coupled with Agency payments of union travel costs, offices and office furniture and supplies and other costs, direct and indirect, Uncle Sam is probably paying the equivalent to 500 to 1000 times the amount employees are paying in dues for their representation. Now that AFGE and NTEU occupy the very most prime real estate in DC for their headquarters and pay their national officers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps the time for change has come.

As always, any opinions stated above are my responsibility. I take no responsibility whatever for the accuracy of OPM report on official time use and they obviously don’t either. They will say, I’m sure, that they report what they get. Is it possible that OPM listened to River Phoenix of all people when he said, “I try to lie as much as I can when I’m interviewed. It’s reverse psychology. I figure if you lie, they’ll print the truth?”

2014 Official Time Usage in the Federal Government

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.