Bill Advances to Require OPM Action on Official Time

A Bill to require annual reporting on use of official time and other union related items is advancing. It has now passed the House and reported favorably by a Senate committee for consideration.

On May 24th, a bill was passed by the House of Representatives (H.R. 1293) requiring the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to submit an annual report to Congress on use of official time by Federal employees.

The Bill was referred to a Senate committee for consideration.

The Bill passed by the House has now passed its first hurdle in the Senate. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has ordered that the House bill be reported favorably and without any amendment.

What the Bill Would Require

The Bill would require the following information from OPM:

  • The total amount of official time granted to employees.
  • The average amount of official time expended per bargaining unit employee. The specific types of activities or purposes for which official time was granted, and the impact which the granting of such official time for such activities or purposes had on agency operations.
  • The total number of employees to whom official time was granted, and, of that total, the number who were not engaged in any activities or purposes except activities or purposes involving the use of official time.
  • The total amount of compensation (including fringe benefits) afforded to employees in connection with activities or purposes for which they were granted official time.
  • A description of any room or space designated at the agency (or its sub-component) where official time activities will be conducted, including the square footage of any such room or space.

Purpose of the Legislation

According to a House report on the Bill, it is needed for the following purpose:

Under existing law, federal agencies are not required to report annually to Congress on the amount of time employees perform representational activities on official time. Without reporting requirements, it is difficult to determine with  certainty how federal employees utilize official time or with what frequency….

The overall objective of H.R. 1293 is to increase transparency and accountability regarding the use and costs of official time by providing Congress, and the American public, with accurate, timely information. The information required by H.R. 1293 is needed to ensure federal government employees are using official time in a manner that is “reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.”

What Is Official Time?

Official time is the term to describe paid time off from assigned government duties for a federal employee to represent a union or employees in a bargaining unit.

Federal employees on official time are treated as if they are in regular federal duty status while engaging in representational activities. Employees working for the union continue to receive their full salary and benefits while working on behalf of the union under official time.

OPM has occasionally reported on the total amount of official time used but the totals are often considered substantially inaccurate with regard to the actual amount of time used.

Prognosis for Passage

Prior to the release of the Bill by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Bill was given a 27% chance of passage. That chance of passage will go up now that it has been favorably reported by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It will still be much harder for this legislation to receive a favorable vote in the Senate than in the House due to likely opposition by Senate Democrats that routinely provide strong support for federal employee unions.

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