$163 Million+ Supporting Federal Employee Unions in FY 2019

The total cost to the federal government supporting federal employee unions was more than $163 million in fiscal year 2019.

The latest report on “official time” from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has changed the nomenclature in the report to Taxpayer-Funded Union Time (TFUT). The meaning has not changed. It is defined in the report as “all time, regardless of agency nomenclature, granted to an employee by the agency to perform representational functions under 5 U.S.C. Chapter 71 and by collective bargaining agreement when the employee would otherwise be in a duty status.”

Significant Decrease in Time Used

In fiscal year (FY) 2019, federal employees in a bargaining unit (a group represented by a union) spent 2,606,390 hours performing representational duties on TFUT. While 2.6 million hours is a lot of time and money, it is a decrease of 28.26 percent compared to the amount of time used in FY 2016. In FY 2016, 3,633,290 hours were reported as TFUT.

In the federal government, the number of TFUT hours used per bargaining unit employee on representational matters also decreased from 2.97 hours in FY 2016 to 1.96 hours during FY 2019.

According to OPM, the payroll costs, salary and benefits using TFUT hours in FY 2019 were $134,987,041.47. The estimated cost of TFUT hours went down by 23.83 percent in FY 2019 compared to the cost in FY 2016. OPM primarily attributes the decrease in payroll costs to the 28.26 percent decrease in the number of hours of TFUT as well as how OPM changed its methodology in calculating the costs.

$163 Million+ Supporting Federal Employee Unions

In this report, OPM also included the cost of providing services to the union. Its analysis is that the federal government’s support of federal employee labor unions in FY 2019 “resulted in an additional cost of $28,340,193.73 to the American taxpayer.”

The OPM report also includes the cost of providing facilities, equipment, and travel expenses to federal employee unions as a result of collective bargaining agreements. The total value of government property used by unions was $24,884,134.22 and other expenses paid by agencies totaled $3,456,059.51 in FY 2019. As a result, OPM calculates federal employee labor organizations resulted in an additional cost of $28,340,193.73 to the American taxpayer.

The total cost to the federal government in supporting labor organizations during fiscal year 2019 was $163,327,235.21.

Previous reports on taxpayer-funded union time did not not include the costs of taxpayer-funded facilities, equipment, and travel expenses agencies provided to labor organizations as a result of collective bargaining. As a result, a comparison of these costs is not possible.

Agencies With Largest Increases and Decreases in TFUT

There were a number of agencies using significantly fewer hours of taxpayer-funded union time in fiscal year 2019. For example, the Department of Education showed a drop of 99.98% in the number of hours used. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service total dropped by 100% as did the number of hours at the National Transportation Safety Board.

On the other hand, the Federal Communications Commission had an increase of 125.29% in the number of hours used by unions and usage increased at the Federal Election Commission by 75%.

Total Hours Used

In terms of the total number of hours used by union representatives, several agencies account for the bulk of the time used. Here are the top 10 agencies in the number of hours used in the TFUT category:

AgencyHours Used% Change
Dept. of Defense526,990.00-36.31
Dept. of Veterans Affairs502,082-52.12
Dept. of Treasury353,280-26.52
Dept. of Justice228,545-37.63
Dept. of Homeland Security220,372-11.61
Dept. of Transportation213,852-16.22
Social Security Administration209,542-17.98
Dept. of Agriculture67,291-44.38
Dept. of Labor53,262+9.83
Dept. of Commerce48,957+2.48
Top 10 Agencies Using Most Hours of TFUT

Overall, there was a substantial decrease in government subsidies to federal employee unions in FY 2019. In part, this is due to the issuance of Executive Order 13837 entitled “Ensuring Transparency, Accountability, and Efficiency in Taxpayer-Funded Union Time Use” even though this EO was not in effect for the entire period.


The main objectives of this Order were:

  • Agencies should ensure that taxpayer-funded union time is used efficiently and authorized in amounts that are reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest;
  • Federal employees should spend the clear majority of their duty hours working for the public;
  • No agency should pay for Federal labor organizations’ expenses, except where required by law;
  • Agencies should eliminate unrestricted grants of taxpayer-funded union time and instead require employees to obtain specific authorization before using such time; and
  • Agencies should also monitor the use of taxpayer-funded union time, ensure it is used only for authorized purposes, and make information regarding its use readily available to the public.

In the report, OPM stated: “The publication of the EO resulted in a focus on this project which has improved the efficiency and reliability of the data over what otherwise might have been expected during this period. As a result, future data is expected to become increasingly efficient and reliable over time.”

That is unlikely to happen.

The report probably assumed the Trump administration would be in office for another term. However, once the Biden administration was inaugurated, the focus has shifted and the current administration will no longer be as strict in requiring or reporting on the number of hours and the money spent on subsidizing federal employee unions. In fact, shortly after assuming office, President Biden revoked EO 13837 along with several others from the Trump administration.

While we are unlikely to see future total figures on the amount of total subsidies provided to federal employee unions, it is likely the number of hours used will go up as well the subsidies to the unions. (See Political Donations and Federal Employees)

Republican administrations tend to take reporting TFUT more seriously than Democrats. The pendelum is already swinging back in a different direction from the Trump administration and it is highly likely that will continue under the Biden administation.

OPM’s Report on Subsidies Provided to Federal Employee Unions in FY 2019

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