The Corner

Administration Still Dragging Feet on Official Time

“Official time” is the process by which taxpayers subsidize unions whose full-time officials are nominally government employees by paying them as if they were working for the taxpayer (the IRS has over 200 such employees, paid by the taxpayer but working for the union). 

The administration is now more than two years late in releasing an important report on the scope of this practice within the federal government. It is supposed to be documented annually in the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Official Time Usage in the Federal Government Report. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has only released official-time statistics once since taking office. The latest available union official-time use and cost is from 2011.

In response, Congressman Phil Gingrey and Dennis Ross have sent a letter to the director of OPM, Katherine Archuleta, asking her to get a move on and publish the official time report, which accounts the number of hours federal employees performed union activities on official time and the cost during FY 2012 (FY 2013 is yet another matter). They say:

“Americans deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent, and failure to publish an official time report only perpetuates their distrust of the Obama Administration,” said Gingrey. “The American people would be better served if the use of official time were fully repealed – as I have proposed in my bill, the Federal Employee Accountability Act. Until this legislation becomes law, however, the least the administration can do to provide adequate transparency and accountability is disclose every penny of our taxpayer’s money going to pay union salaries. OPM must commit to responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars by immediately releasing the FY13 Official Time Report.”

“Since taxpayers pay the salary of all federal employees, they have a right to know how much of their money is used for conducting union business while on the clock,” said Ross. “That’s why I introduced the Official Time Reporting Act which would require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on the use of official time by federal employees. We are more than $17 trillion in debt. I believe in fair representation; however, we must ensure that we are spending the people’s hard-earned money wisely.”

What is the scale of official time in the federal government? According to the last OPM report, federal employees spent 3.4 million hours on union activities in fiscal 2011, an increase of nearly 300,000 hours from 2010. That cost taxpayers $155 million in salaries and benefits, up $15 million from the 2010 report.

But these official time costs are understated. 

First, the OPM report does not include the cost of travel, per diem, offices or supplies.

Secondly, research done by CEI has unearthed a report from the Social Security Administration that contradicts OPM’s official time costs for that agency. There appears to be an approximately $2 million discrepancy in the cost of employees’ salaries and benefits for official time in fiscal 2011 reported by OPM and the SSA. According to the 2011 Social Security Administration’s “Report on Expenditures for Union Activities,” the dollar value of employees’ compensation for official time is listed at $11.2 million and time spent on union business at 229,195 hours. However, OPM reports the same number of hours in its report, “Official Time Usage in the Federal Government,” but states that they only cost the SSA $9.9 million in salary and benefits. That discrepancy alone amounts to more than $1 million. If the cost of travel, office space, and arbitration expenses incurred by the public for federal employees on official time were included (OPM does not report these costs), the difference between the reports jumps to approximately $2.8 million. That’s just for one agency. Spread across the entire federal government, the costs are likely to be far larger than the official estimate.

Yet there is some reason for hope. It should be of interest to the unions receiving these generous taxpayer subsidies that the practice has recently been found unconstitutional in Arizona under the state’s “gift clause.” In Great Britain, the Conservative government has recently moved to crack down on its version of the scheme.​ If Represntative Gingrey’s bill gets traction — and it should — we might be able to rid the taxpayer of this burden and force politicized government unions to pick up their own costs.

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