Dramatic Decrease in Official Time at VA

The VA is successfully implementing recent executive orders to restrict the use of official time and free office space previously used by unions.

President Trump issued three executive orders in 2018 impacting the federal workforce. There were substantive provisions in these documents that are now having an impact on the federal government’s labor relations program.

While legal challenges delayed implementation and are still ongoing, agencies have so far prevailed in these legal challenges and are now in the process of implementing the executive orders.

These executive orders placed significant restrictions on the use of official time by federal employees working on behalf of a union as well as directing agencies to be more stringent in bargaining union use of government facilities. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one agency that says it is achieving success in implementing these executive orders.

VA Retrieves 150,000 Square Feet

A press release from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) highlights the impact that the orders are having in that agency.

The press release states that the agency “has expanded clinical and office space for serving Veterans by more than 150,000 square feet, while saving taxpayers more than $1.4 million annually.”

The expansion and savings are the result of the agency implementing  Executive Order 13837 (EO) which prohibits free or discounted use of government property for union business. In effect, the agency has gained the use of an additional 150,000 square feet of space by taking back space that was previously used by federal employee unions.

The VA employs a workforce with a number of unions representing employees in bargaining units. In 2019, the agency notified more than 330 local bargaining units that they would be required to either vacate VA property or begin paying rent for any VA-owned office space that was being used for union business.

In announcing the additional space that is now available for agency use VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stated:

This is exactly the type of commonsense policy taxpayers expect and Veterans deserve. President Trump has made clear that VA must put Veterans first in all it does, and this change helps us do just that.

Faced with the prospect of paying fair-market rent for the VA space they had been using for free, 244 local union bargaining units notified VA they were vacating VA office space.

In addition to the additional space that is now available to the agency, 77 local union bargaining units have signed yearlong leases and are paying rent to retain space located on VA property. The VA states that this will result in a total of more than $1.4 million per year in rent payments that will be given back to the U.S. Treasury. The VA started collecting these rent payments in March.

Dramatic Drop in Official Time Use

The agency has also announced that in the first quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2020, VA employees spent 135,000 hours on “official time,” but in the second quarter of FY 2020 ending in March there was a 56% drop, with 59,000 hours of “official time” logged by VA employees.

While total figures on the use of official time are not yet available for the federal government, the drop in official time usage at the VA is significant. At some point, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will provide government-wide data on these issues. No doubt, there will be dramatic difference between how agencies are implementing the executive orders.

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