Coburn calls on OPM to fire feds 'paid to do nothing'

Friday - 3/29/2013, 3:04pm EDT

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has written to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, saying the office should take steps to offload federal workers and contractors who don't show up for work, aren't performing official duties or "are simply not working at all."

In the letter, Coburn, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said doing so could prevent the need to furlough critical employees under sequestration.

"Thousands of essential federal employees performing critical missions from food safety to national security are being threatened with furloughs, while others who are literally paid to do nothing or do not even show up for work are being retained," Coburn wrote.

Coburn focused on four areas: Employees who go absent without permission; employees who conduct union business while on the clock; employees on standby pay; and contractor employees who continue to be paid while awaiting security clearances.

AWOL feds

"Federal employees who are AWOL, or 'absent without leave,' cost millions of lost man-hours, which can drag down an agency's productivity," Coburn wrote.

He pointed to a 2008 report he authored which found employees at 18 departments and agencies were absent for a total of at least 19.6 million hours between 2001 and 2007.

Each agency classifies AWOL status differently. Some consider employees who are 15 minutes late to work absent without permission, while others apply that designation only to employees absent for longer periods of time.

Coburn requested OPM provide more up-to-date information about employees placed into AWOL status between 2008 and 2012.

Official time

Coburn also zeroed in on "official time," which allows federal employees to work on union business, such as dispute resolution and labor-management relations while on the job.

In 2011, the government spent $155 million on a total of 3.4 million hours of official time, an 11 percent increase over 2010 levels.

Coburn said allowing employees to perform work not related to an agency's mission results in a loss for the government. In 2011, that amounted to a year's worth of work for 1,632 employees, he said.

Again, Coburn said he wants more recent information, requesting OPM provide data for fiscal 2012.

Standby status

Some federal employees are required to remain at work in a standby status as opposed to actually performing work, Coburn said. The Congressional Research Service reported that at least 906 employees received standby pay in 2011 and 919 employees received it in 2010. The total cost for paying these employees over that two-year period was $13.1 million.

"While it makes sense to have some on standby, such as employees at the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, others are less obvious, such as the standby employees at the Agricultural Marketing Service," Coburn wrote.

Do-nothing contractors

Finally, Coburn said some contractors (whose salaries are often reimbursed by the government) are being paid to do nothing.

Because of delays in the process for obtaining security clearances, between 10 and 20 percent of intelligence contractors are "sitting idle awaiting a clearance," Coburn said, while still drawing large salaries.

"The cost of wasted contractor man-hours to the government has been estimated to be roughly between $900 million and $1.8 billion a month," he wrote.

Coburn also wants OPM to calculate the total amount spent on salaries and other compensation, such as health insurance, for employees that fall into any of these categories.

"Targeting these four areas where federal employees are being paid to do nothing could result in billions of dollars in annual savings, enough to maintain those employees performing the truly essential missions of the federal government," he wrote.

Federal News Radio has requested comment from OPM.

Last month, Coburn wrote to the Office of Management and Budget asking it to institute a partial job freeze on a handful of "lower-priority" federal jobs.

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