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. Official time refers to the time a federal employee spends working on behalf of a federal employee union while continuing to receive the full pay and all benefits of a federal employee. (See Bill Advances to Require OPM Action on Official Time)
HR 1293 would also require the OPM report to include the purpose for the use of official time, the amount of compensation paid for official time, and the locations where the official time duty is used.
The Bill was referred to a Senate committee for consideration. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on July 26th ordered that the House bill be reported favorably and without amendment.
Action and Conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the official time bill that is now before the Senate. Its report was issued on August 4th.
The CBO noted that OPM currently collects some information on the use of official time. The CBO anticipates that information currently collected would be combined with other aggregate and estimated information to prepare the report for the Congress that would be required by HR 1293.
The CBO estimates that any additional costs of the new legislation, should it pass into law, would be less than $500,000 annually. Any additional spending would still be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.
There are also agencies in which federal employees use official time that are not funded through annual appropriations; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. The agency estimates that any increase in spending by these self-funded agencies would be negligible.
In other words, passage of HR 1293 will not affect federal government revenue. The CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 1293 would not increase net direct spending or on budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2028.
Impact of the CBO Report on Passage of the Bill
The report by the Congressional Budget Office will not hurt potential passage of the proposed legislation. Had the conclusion of the CBO been that the bill would mean significantly higher expenses for the federal government, it would have aided opponents of the bill in the Senate.
At first glance, the bills’ requirements are innocuous. The political reality is that there will be a number of Senate Democrats opposing its passage.
While the bill does not impose new terms or restrictions on the use of official time, a more accurate accounting of how much time is used, the actual cost of this benefit to the federal government, and an accounting of where and how the time is used could lead to more restrictions on use of official time in the future.
There is little confidence that the current effort to occasionally account for the use of official time is an accurate accounting of the cost and actual hours used. There is also no accounting of how the time is actually being used.
It is possible that reliable figures on the time and usage of official time by federal employee unions could reveal surprising results. That is most likely the underlying fear of those who will see passage of the bill as posing a threat to this benefit in future Congressional action.