Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, recently issued guidance that directs federal agencies to find ways to, in part, “reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce” and “Develop a plan to maximize employee performance.”
A good start toward fulfilling this directive would be to get rid of federal employees who do not perform any public duties but still are paid a government salary. Believe it or not, there are a surprising number of federal employees that don’t do any government work. Maximizing employee performance cannot be achieved without requiring federal employees to do the job they were hired to do.
According to a new Competitive Enterprise Institute report, there are an estimated 1,000 federal employees who spend 100 percent of their work hours on labor union business instead of actual government work. They are permitted to do this because of the little-known provision called union “official time,” which gives paid leave to federal employees to perform union business like lobbying, attending union conventions, and filing grievances.
In addition to the 100 percent official time employees, many more federal employees spend a portion of their workday on union business. The most recent data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) finds that official time costs $162.5 million and federal employees spend 3.4 million hours on union business.
But OPM’s numbers are just an estimate, and a poor one at that. A previous government report found OPM uses a flawed methodology that underestimates the cost of the union subsidy. In addition, OPM’s numbers do not include all costs associated with official time. OPM only estimates the cost of salary and benefits of employees who use official time, but other costs exist. Essentially, the federal government pays for all the supplies a union needs to operate—like office space, telephones, supplies, and travel and per diem.
The new CEI report estimates that the annual cost of official time is actually about $200 million, which includes the potential costs of office space and supplies, plus adds 15 percent because that is how much OPM’s methodology underestimates the cost.
Currently, two pieces of legislation are making their way through Congress that would increase transparency and curtail the worst abuses of official time.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) introduced the Official Time Reform Act of 2017, which prohibits federal employees from lobbying on behalf of federal employee unions on official time. In addition, any federal employee who spends 80 percent or more on official time in a day loses service credit hours for that day. Meaning those employees would not accrue pension contributions on days they primarily conduct union business.
The other bill, H.R.1293, enhances tracking and reporting of official time. Rep. Dennis Ross’ (R-FL) bill requires detailed, annual reporting of official time. Currently, the Office of Personnel Management only releases official time costs and hours used every two years and is years behind in releasing the costs of the union subsidy.
While these are worthwhile legislative efforts, Congress should pass legislation that completely eliminates this subsidy to federal employee unions. Official time amounts to a waste of over a hundred million tax dollars annually—an expenditure that does not serve a public purpose or provide any tangible benefit to taxpayers.
Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy non-profit group in Washington, D.C.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.