The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report that found 346 Department of Veterans Affairs employees do zero work for taxpayers but only for their union, yet still draw a federal salary. And as The Washington Examiner points out, no one knows what the workers are doing, as the GAO report doesn’t say, nor does the VA track these employees.
According to Rep. Jody Arrington (R-TX) and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, this practice known as “official time” may be more widespread and the number listed in the GAO report doesn’t include employees who spend some of their day doing union work.
Arrington said this revelation of official time, along with the laundry list of other scandals at the VA, shows the “broken culture at the heart of the VA.”
"I haven't heard one good, acceptable reason why the practice has continued,” Arrington added.
When the Washington Examiner inquired about the report to the VA, they responded with a statement:
VA believes that the appropriate use of official time can be beneficial and in the public interest as stated in the Federal Service Labor-Relations Statute, which governs how executive branch agencies treat official time. VA takes the position that labor and management have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately. VA practices are in compliance with the Federal Service Labor-Relations Statute.
According to the Examiner:
Official time is allowed under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. The idea behind it is to ensure that a federal employee who is also a union official won't be penalized for being away from work if he or she is negotiating a contract or addressing a worker grievance, for example. It is essentially a trade-off for the limitations put on federal unions, such as prohibitions on striking.
At least 700 federal workers do nothing but work on official time, according to the GAO and data obtained from various Freedom of Information Act requests. The VA uses official time far more than any other agency.
"Employees spent approximately 1,057,00 hours on official time for union representation activities … In addition, the data show that 346 employees spent 100 percent of their time on official time," the GAO found in a January report.
It is possible that even those figures are conservative. The GAO said the said the VA's poor monitoring meant the data was "inconsistent and not reliable."
Part of the problem is the VA’s enormous workforce: 373,000 employees, second only to the Pentagon in workforce size. At least 250,000 VA workers, and probably more, are under collective bargaining agreements and that spreads across at least five different unions.
Arrington has introduced legislation that would force the VA to begin tracking official time among the unions and believes that to be an important step in reforming the scandal-plagued department.