What is Official Time?
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued its latest report on “official time”.
Official time is a term used to describe time spent by federal employee union representatives who receive their government salary and benefits while performing duties as a union official.
According to a press release from OPM:
“Official time”, more accurately referred to as ‘Taxpayer Funded Union Time’ is paid time spent by Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. In other words, official time is treated as work time, thus is funded by the American taxpayers while no service to the taxpayer is performed.
Increasing Cost of Official Time
According to the OPM report, the cost for this use of paid leave by federal employees acting on behalf of a union increased by 7.55 percent from Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 to FY 2016.
The cost increased from about $162.5 million in FY 2014 to approximately $174.8 million in FY 2016. In addition, OPM estimates that the total official time hours across the government increased over a two year period from 3,468,170 in FY 2014 to 3,611,112 in FY 2016—an increase of 4.12 percent or 142,942 hours.
The average number of official time hours used per bargaining unit employee rate increased over a two year period from 2.88 hours in FY 2014 to 2.95 hours in FY 2016.
Union Expenses Funded by Government But Not Included
OPM’s report on Official Time Usage in the Federal Government does not reflect a complete accounting of all the costs of union activities in the Federal Government. For example, it does not include the costs of taxpayer-funded facilities, equipment, and travel expenses agencies provide labor organizations as a result of collective bargaining.
Some agencies are required to report costs of union activities to their appropriations committee. One example is the Social Security Administration (SSA). For FY 2016, SSA reports $700,000 for union travel and per diem; $1,400,000 for union office space, telephones, and supplies; $100,000 for interest; and $100,000 for arbitration expenses.
Accuracy of Data
SSA also reports $13,700,000 for official time costs compared to OPM’s calculation of $11,678,051. The discrepancy highlights the cost methodology issue previously raised by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). SSA is able to determine actual salary costs of the specific bargaining unit employees on official time throughout the fiscal year.
SSA is an example of highlighting other significant costs for union activities. OPM notes in its report that “it is unclear whether SSA’s experience is typical, and no comprehensive data source exists to allow OPM to calculate an estimate of these costs across the entire Federal Government. OPM strongly recommends that agencies gain an understanding of these costs and consider how these expenditures support an effective and efficient Government.”
Seeking Value for the Taxpayer
Recently confirmed OPM Director Jeff T.H. Pon noted in the OPM press release:
The data shows that Taxpayer Funded Union Time is at a steady increase. This Administration is passionate about protecting hardworking Americans and the use of their tax dollars. OPM will continue exploring opportunities to identify useful practices for monitoring and reporting on the use of official time and sharing these practices with agencies across the government to assist agencies in strengthening internal controls and increasing transparency, accountability, and accuracy.
The OPM report also notes:
Moving forward, OPM will continue exploring opportunities to identify useful practices for monitoring and reporting on the use of official time and sharing these practices with agencies across the government to assist agencies in strengthening internal controls and increasing transparency and accountability. Ultimately, the goal is to have official time hours provide value to the taxpayer.
Agencies With Highest Official Time Cost
The Department of Veterans Affairs was significantly ahead of other agencies in terms of the amount spent on official time. The cost in FY 2016 was $49,142,863.90. In FY 2014, the cost of official time was $48,640,351.72.
The Department of the Treasury came in second at $22,417,155.78 in FY 2016 compared to $23,524,084.62 in FY 2014.
The Department of Transportation came in third at $17,975,235.48 in official time costs for FY 2016. Their costs in FY 2014 was $16,468,928.48.
Legislation to Restrict or More Closely Track Official Time
Several bills have been introduced in Congress to restrict or to try and more closely track how official time is used. To date, these proposals have not passed in Congress.