Last week, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) resurrected a little-known procedural rule that allows lawmakers to slash a federal employee’s pay to $1. What is known as the Holman rule, named after Indiana Rep. William Holman who served back in the 1800s, allows an individual congressperson to propose an amendment to an appropriations bill that singles out an individual government employee or program.
While using such a measure should be done with care, there is one subsection of federal employees that should be targeted. And the kicker, cutting these employees’ pay to $1, and effectively firing them, would have zero impact on public services.
Simply get rid of federal employees who spend 100 percent of their work hours on labor union business instead of actual government work. Every year, taxpayers foot the bill for thousands of federal employees to conduct union business instead of the public service they were hired to do, in a practice known as union “official time.”
What is the scope of the problem? According to FOIA requests by Americans for Limited Government, around 1,000 federal employees are on 100 percent official time. But the Obama administration itself failed to regularly report on the cost of official time. FY 2012 is the last year the numbers were reported by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In that year, federal employees spent a total of 3,439,449 hours on official time at a cost of $157,196,468.
Clearly, our government needs to have better, more up-to-date accounting on official time waste. The problem may be even worse than what’s been reported. In October 2014, a Government Accountability Office report found that the methodology used by OPM to estimate the cost of official time is inaccurate. The reports finds that the OPM estimation has obvious shortcomings, such as not using the actual salary of employees that use official time. According to the GAO report, OPM estimates the cost of official time by “multiplying each agency’s average salary (as reported in EHRI [Enterprise Human Resources Integration] for BU [bargaining unit] employees covered by official time activities by the agency’s total reported official time hours.” Using a more sound methodology, GAO found at four of the six agencies it examined, official time costs are about 15 percent higher than the OPM cost estimates.
Besides shoddy methodology, OPM cost estimates do not include the cost of office space, telephones, supplies, and travel and per diem that federal employees use on official time. And those costs add up. For example, according to the Social Security Administration report “FY 2013 Social Security Administration Report on Expenditures for Union Activities,” travel and office space cost an additional $1.8 million from what the OPM reports on.
Official time can also exacerbate real world problems for people who depend on government services. Consider the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) scandals and chronic mismanagement woes. One would imagine that it is an all-hands on deck situation. Not so much. Employees conducting union business during work time at the VA is a big problem.
In June 2013, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wrote to former VA Secretary Shinseki that 188 of the agency’s employees were on 100 percent official time. Basically they get paid a federal salary but only conduct union business. That’s time not spend on providing direct support to veterans. The senators noted that 85 VA nurses were on 100 percent official time status.
Portman and Coburn implored the agency in a letter: “During this time of sequestration and tight budgets, it is important to know how so many employees can be spared to serve the interest of outside groups, instead of carrying out jobs that are essential to the health, safety and transition of our nation’s veterans.”
Congress may have rediscovered an effective tool to address the problem of official time—use the Holman to get rid of federal employees that only perform union duties. But this Congress should also take immediate action, by reintroducing and passing Se. Rand Paul’s Federal Employee Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 785) to eliminate the practice of union official time in the federal government. Labor union official time is a blatant subsidy to government unions. There is no reason why taxpayers should continue to foot the bill for federal employees that do not work for them but for the interests of a government union.
Originally posted to The Hill.