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EDITORIAL: ‘Official time,’ paid administrative leave trample taxpayers

According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Personnel Management improperly tracked the amount of time federal employees spent working for their labor unions at taxpayer expense in 2013.

Under federal law, federal employees who are members of labor unions are entitled to so-called “official time,” which allows them to report to their normal offices and be paid their normal salaries while participating in labor union organizing activities “in lieu of their regularly assigned work.”

It’s not a coincidence that the number of federal employees entitled to this “official time” is growing along with the size of government. Not only is the number of taxpayer-funded union operatives growing, but the GAO also says the methodology used by the OPM to calculate union-related employee hours is flawed — the OPM underestimated the cost of employees conducting union work by 9 percent in 2013.

In other words, not only are taxpayers paying federal workers to work for unions which are hostile to the interests of those taxpayers, but the number of federal workers working for those unions is on the rise, as is the number of hours federal workers are spending doing union work — hours which are being under-reported. And we’re not supposed to know how many hours workers are dedicating to their unions in the first place.

Not surprisingly, taxpayers are footing the bill for the creation and preservation of rules that ensure federal pay and benefits that dwarf private sector pay, to ensure that it’s nearly impossible to fire federal workers, and to pay them their full salaries and benefits when they’re not working at all — in some cases, for several years — after being placed on administrative leave for poor performance or misconduct.

In one such case reported last month by The Washington Post, the Environmental Protection Agency paid eight employees more than $1 million to stay home. Four of them have been home for more than a year. Two others have been home for four years.

Nancy Gelb, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator, disputed the story, saying the agency’s Office of Inspector General exaggerated and that only three EPA employees had more than a year of administrative leave, and for two of them, the leave was not contiguous.

That doesn’t make us feel any better. And neither does this:

Do you remember the huge scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs? The one in which VA employees falsely reported patient wait times and covered up systemic malfeasance so they could collect bonuses at the expense of veterans’ health?

In an effort to help clean up the VA, new Secretary Robert McDonald would like to see hundreds of employees fired or disciplined. But that can’t happen until the VA builds the cases necessary to support their termination, until their cases are reviewed by an administrative judge. However long that takes, the employees will enjoy an extended paid vacation.

Aloha and deal with it, taxpayers!

Ask any Democrat in Washington how to fix our nation’s ills, and the response will likely include a plea for more money. But if we can learn anything from the current state of our republic, it’s that Washington’s problem is not a lack of money, but rather the lack of care it shows in handling the money it already has.

It would be great if the incoming Republican Congress would act to get some of that money back for us.

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