Official Time Bill Adds Paperwork for Union Reps and Headaches for OPM

The author says a proposed bill on official time reporting may offer some benefit, but does so at the expense of added paperwork and managerial challenges.

A bill in Congress would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to submit annual reports to Congress relating to the use of official time by federal employees. Official time is time certain federal employees work on union matters while still being paid a federal salary.

For those of you who have lost track of it, the bill – passed by the House of Representatives in late May, but has sat idly in the Senate ever since –  would require OPM to gather and report data on the following from all federal union representatives:

  • Total amount of official time granted to employees
  • Average amount of official time expended per bargaining unit employee
  • Specific types of activities or purposes for which office time was granted, and the impact which the granting of such official time had on agency operations
  • 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 involving the use of official time
  • Total amount of compensation – including fringe benefits – afforded to employees in connection with activities or purposes for which they were granted official time
  • Total amount of official time spent by employees representing federal employees who are not union members in matters authorized by this chapter
  • A description of any room or space designated at the agency (or its subcomponent) where official time activities are conducted, including the square footage of any such room or space

The Challenges with Implementation

The idea behind this bill is simple: to create transparency when it comes to how official time is used. Implementing it, though, could be a challenge – more so for OPM than the federal employees who double as union representatives.

In one sense, the bill’s impact on federal employee union reps is minimal. As long as they are utilizing official time to represent their fellow employees in matters such as disciplinary hearings and discrimination claims, among others, there shouldn’t be a problem in having their official time reported annually by OPM. It only adversely affects those who abuse official time, as it will expose them to further scrutiny by OPM and the employing Agency.


The bigger issue is the extra amount of paperwork union reps may have to deal with when it comes to reporting official time to their agencies, which would then be passed along to OPM for analysis.  Representatives are certainly going to have to keep an extra-close eye on how much time they spend representing federal employees at hearings and track every minute. Presuming every union rep follows through with this requirement, OPM can get an accurate assessment of the data.

OPM’s Potential Challenge

Though the percentage of union reps within the larger federal workforce is small, OPM still must rely on a substantial number of people to report their official time to the agency. That level of coordination isn’t easy to manage, and the bill does not offer OPM any recourse to discipline those Agencies or employees who do not comply. So unless OPM finds a way to compel every union rep to accurately and honestly report their official time use, that agency may find it difficult to give Congress the statistics they are looking for.

Bottom Line

What this bill proposes should concern OPM and those union reps who misuse official time. The biggest impact for everyone else involved with federal labor unions is the additional paperwork they will have to fill out.

About the Author

Mathew B. Tully is a founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. He concentrates his practice on representing federal government employees and military personnel. To schedule a meeting with one of the firm’s federal employment law attorneys call (202) 787-1900. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.