EDITORIAL: Federal paid administrative leave hammers taxpayers

Our federal government is so bloated, inefficient and wasteful that it can’t calculate just how bloated, inefficient and wasteful it is.

According to a recent report by The Washington Post, during a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 federal employees were placed on paid administrative leave for a month or longer — some for a year or more. Not only did they continue to collect paychecks while they sat at home, but they also continued to build their pensions, amass vacation and sick days and — get this — receive pay raises. Despite the presence of stringent federal rules intended to limit paid leave and curb waste, these nonworking government workers received more than $700 million in salary alone during the 36-month period, according data collected by the Government Accountability Office.

As staggering as that figure is, however, it is also incomplete. GAO auditors say that most federal agencies have only spotty data on how many employees they’ve placed on paid leave and for how long.

One government employee who is doing her job is Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta, who penned a memo to federal managers last week reminding them that administrative leave should be seen as a “temporary solution” and should only be used when other options such as reassignment or temporary suspension have been exhausted — like when problem employees pose a threat to themselves or others, for example.

“While administrative leave may be appropriate under various circumstances, supervisors often place employees on administrative leave rather than utilizing other options that may be more appropriate,” she wrote. “Administrative leave is not an entitlement, and agencies are not required to grant it.”

As The Post reported, not only have federal agencies been paying excessive amounts in administrative leave, but they’ve been doing it for increasingly questionable reasons, including for alleged violations of government regulations, whistleblowing, questions concerning trustworthiness and disputes with colleagues or supervisors. Some employees have received what amount to extended paid vacations for challenging demotions and other punishments.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., are looking into the matter. “We’re still analyzing the responses, but what we’re seeing so far causes concern,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement last week. “Agencies need to do a better job of protecting the taxpayers from abusively long or inappropriate paid leave.”

This practice is ridiculous. Ms. Archuleta, Sen. Grassley, Rep. Issa and others have had enough, and so should we. We need to pay people to work, not to stay at home. If this isn’t a sign that the federal government is too large and can be cut down like a field of corn, then nothing is.

Paid administrative leave is an absurd abuse of taxpayers who work for private enterprises that can’t possibly afford such largess, nor do without the lost production. Such wasteful and irresponsible federal policies continue only because Washington spends other people’s money — your money. It is simply too large to be accountable, and it has zero incentive to become more efficient.

Ms. Archuleta should be applauded for shining a light on this issue and trying to do something about it. Nevada’s congressional delegation needs to do everything it can to see that her recommendation becomes a reality.

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