OPM to Agencies: Track and Report Official Time Use

OPM is requiring agencies to report on official time use by federal employee unions by January 31, 2020.

“Official time” for federal employees working on behalf of a union is a controversial topic. While the federal civil service is designed to be non-political and work on behalf of the administration elected by voters, unions are largely a force within the federal government that works on behalf of Democrats. Official time is largely ignored when a Democrat is in the White House and more attention is paid to the topic under a Republican administration.

Official time is a term used to describe time given to a federal employee to work on behalf of a federal employee union while continuing to receive full employee salary and benefits.

Reporting Requirement on Official Time

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued a memo to agency heads to collect and submit reports on official time. The memo states that agencies are required “to administer the (labor relations) Statute in a manner consistent with the requirements of an effective and efficient government, and consistent with this objective, to authorize taxpayer-funded union time only in amounts that are reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest and to monitor its use to see that it is used efficiently.”

Agencies are being told to submit information on official time by January 31, 2020. The purpose is obviously to get a better idea of how much time is being spent by federal employees working for a union and how much this is costing the federal government.

Information to be Sent to OPM

Here is a list of the information agencies are to submit to OPM:

  • The purposes for which the agency has authorized the use of taxpayer-funded union time:
    • a. Term Negotiations
    • b. Mid-Term Negotiations
    • c. Dispute Resolution
    • d. General Labor-Management Relations
  • The amounts of time used for each purpose of taxpayer-funded union time;
  • The job title (as listed on position description) and total compensation (cost of salary and benefits) of each employee who has used taxpayer-funded union time in the fiscal year;
  • The total number of hours each employee spent on taxpayer-funded union time and the proportion of each employee’s total paid hours that number represents;
  • The total value of the free or discounted use of government property for labor organizations or individuals on taxpayer-funded union time;
  • Any expenses the agency paid for activities conducted on taxpayer-funded union time;
  • The amount of any reimbursement paid by the labor organizations for the use of government property;
  • The identification of instances where taxpayer-funded union time exceeds an average of 1 hour per bargaining unit employee; and
  • If an agency’s aggregate union time rate (i.e., the average of the union time rates in each agency bargaining unit, weighted by the number of employees in each unit) has increased overall from the last reporting year (FY 2016), the agency shall explain this increase.

The new OPM memo largely reflects reporting requirements in an Executive Order issued by President Trump in May 2018.

The Executive Order became effective after a federal Court of Appeals lifted an injunction of the order. The Executive Order would reduce the official time a federal employee could use. At least three-quarters of an employee’s time during a fiscal year must be used in working as a federal employee. There is also be a limit on the amount of annual official time of one hour for each employee in a bargaining unit represented by that union.

The latest report from OPM on official time usage concluded that $174,789,810 was spent by the government on official time usage in fiscal year 2016. As Fedsmith author Bob Gilson noted in analyzing the OPM report: “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.”

In other words, OPM reported information provided by agencies but there is little consistency in how agencies track and monitor the use of official time. The actual amount of time used is probably considerably greater than what has been reported.

The president’s Executive Order and the OPM requirement that agencies closely track and report on the use of official time is an attempt to collect more accurate information on the actual cost of this benefit to federal employee unions.

Official Time Reports by FedSmith Inc. on Scribd

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