GOP lawmakers seek updated 'official time' report

Tuesday - 3/25/2014, 2:37pm EDT

Two Republican members of the House want to know how many hours federal employees are spending on union-related business while on the job.

That information is contained in an annual report published by the Office of Personnel Management. But it's been more than year since OPM has provided updated statistics on employees' use of "official time" and the most recent available data is from 2011. Federal workers spent a total of nearly 3.4 million hours working on union activities that year, the most since 2004.

Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) wrote to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta urging the agency to release updated data.

"Since taxpayers pay the salary of all federal employees, they have a right to know how much of their money is used for conducting union business while on the clock," Ross said in a statement provided by his office.

Will OPM release report this year?

OPM has published a report on the use of official time annually since 2002.

But Ross and Gingrey, two of the most skeptical members of Congress when it comes to federal employees' use of official time, said they are concerned OPM may phase out publication of the report altogether.

In their letter, Ross and Gingrey noted Archuleta's testimony before a Senate committee last July on her nomination to head OPM, in which she said she couldn't commit to continuing to publish the official time report. She said she would look into it if confirmed.

"Your testimony raised concerns that you are not committed to the production of an annual official time report," the letter stated.

Meanwhile, Gingrey and Ross said they haven't heard from OPM on when — or even whether — the report detailing official time through the end of fiscal 2012 will be released.

"We feel sure that you would agree that continued and timely preparation of these reports is necessary to provide transparency in the use of official time and provide oversight of taxpayer dollars," they wrote in the March 24 letter to Archuleta. "Failure to provide an official time report could contribute to a further erosion of trust in the federal government, as it seems to suggest that the government is unwilling to account for how its employees spend their workday."

The letter asked OPM to release the report by April 18.

Federal News Radio has requested comment from OPM.

Unions say official time vital

Congress authorized the use of official time in the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. Federal-employee unions say it is a vital part of the federal collective bargaining system. Federal employees' use of official time must be approved by managers and cannot be spent on internal union business, according to OPM. Instead, employees must be performing what OPM calls representational tasks, such as participating in labor- management forums or hearing employee complaints.

In 2011, federal employees spent nearly 3.4 million hours working on union activities. That averages out to about 2.8 hours of union-related work per employee for a total cost of more than $155.7 million. Still, OPM noted the costs amount to one-tenth of 1 percent of the total cost of federal employees' salary and benefits in 2011 and "can contribute in meaningful ways to the ability of federal employees to carry out their duties on behalf of the American people."

Critics of the practice, however, point out that the use of and costs associated with official time grew in 2011, equating to a year's worth of work for more than 1,600 employees.

RELATED STORIES:

Work time spent on union activities at a 7-year high for feds

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

Lawmakers at odds over 'official time'