NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Subsidizes Unions through "Official Time"

June 19, 2013

With a backlog of almost 1 million unprocessed benefit claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is shocking that over 250 of the department's employees are on "official time," doing no work for veterans. It sounds unbelievable to most of us who have to show up at work to do a job, but "official time" is time when federal workers spend time working for their unions and not working for taxpayers, says Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

A report published in February by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) states, "Official time, broadly defined, is paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees."

  • Republican senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Rob Portman of Ohio, in a June 5 letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, said, "Documents show that your department recently employed at least 85 VA nurses, some with six-figure salaries, who were in 100 percent official time status. At the same time, the department is recruiting more people to fill open nursing positions."
  • In 2011, according to OPM, the federal government paid over $156 million for some of its employees to work as representatives for government unions, up from $139 million in 2010 and $129 million in 2009.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs had 998,483.00 hours of official time in 2011, up 23 percent from 2010. The hours per employee rate was 4.02, compared with a government-wide average of 2.82. The agency spent $42.5 million on official time, including salaries and benefits for both full-time and part-time employees.

Government workers on "official time" have office space in a particular agency to which they are assigned and are paid for full-time work by the taxpayers, including fringe benefits such as pension plans and medical insurance. But many are not required to show up at the office.

Contributions from these unions flow back into politics, the vast majority to Democratic causes. For example, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was described by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics as a "heavy hitter" in terms of contributions. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, the SEIU spent $16.9 million on contributions to candidates, almost all Democrats, and $23 million on outside spending.

Paying government employees to work for unions is wrong at any time, but especially when federal employees are being furloughed during the sequester and the VA is taking months to give veterans the benefits they are rightly owed by Uncle Sam.

Source: Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "While the Rest of Us Toil, Government Workers Get 'Official Time,'" Real Clear Markets, June 11, 2013.


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