Nov 17, 2011 - 5:12pm

Taxpayers on the Hook for Official Time

Executive Director, Labor Policy
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently released a report detailing the amount of time government employees spent doing union business in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. The results make unpleasant reading for American taxpayers, who ponied up over $137 million to subsidize this special perk. Allowance for so-called “Official Time” is enshrined in the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) under the premise that letting government officials do work for unions while being paid by the taxpayer is somehow beneficial to the national interest.
It’s unclear just what sort of union-related work these federal employees are actually performing, since the subjects over which federal unions can bargain are few. For example, wages and benefits for federal government employees are set by Congress, not through collective bargaining. In the experience of this writer, most union “work” consisted of trying to protect poorly performing federal employees from any sort of disciplinary action. 
Nonetheless, government employees managed to spend more than three million hours (3,062,842 hours to be exact) working on behalf of their unions, rather than the taxpayers who foot the bill. Surprisingly, the agency with the highest rate of hours spent per employee was the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). One would think that the NLRB of all agencies would enjoy a stable relationship with its union, thus negating the need for extensive negotiations and processing of grievances. However, the NLRB’s union representatives racked up almost 11 hours per bargaining unit employee, more than quadruple the government-wide average, with 65% of those hours being spent on the amorphous and easily abused category of “General Labor-Management Relations.” On second thought, given its pro-labor tilt these days, perhaps one should not be surprised at the board’s generosity toward its union representatives. 
Even more baffling than the very concept of taxpayer-subsidized union representation was the fact that some agencies witnessed meteoric growth in their official time rates. While some variation might be expected in any sample, the increase in official time at these agencies seems to defy logic: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (368.04%), the Presidio Trust (455.25%), the Merit Systems Protection Board (400.30%), the Peace Corps (563.89%), the Export-Import Bank (741.53%), the National Transportation Safety Board (943.14%), and the real whopper — the U.S. International Trade Commission (1,517.74%). One wonders what spurred such massive increases in labor-management unrest requiring so much increased union representation, but the most obvious reason (collective bargaining negotiations) can be eliminated — virtually all of the reported time in these agencies fell under “General Labor-Management Relations” and almost none under “Term Negotiations.” 
The ongoing use of official time is simply a taxpayer subsidy to federal labor unions who, by not having to pay for their own representation costs, are free to spend the $137 million gift from the public in other directions, such as politics. As the latest OPM report reveals, this outdated relic of the 1970s benefits no one, other than federal unions and their political allies.
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About the Author

About the Author

Sean P. Redmond
Executive Director, Labor Policy

Sean P. Redmond is Executive Director, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.