Senators seek to eliminate 'official time' for federal employees

Monday - 7/22/2013, 4:12pm EDT

By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

Republican lawmakers are pushing to eliminate official time for government employees.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and 13 other senators introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act (S. 785), a one-page bill that ends the practice of paying federal employees to work on union activities.

"Using taxpayer dollars to finance what is often highly partisan and political full-time union work is a grievous violation of the public's trust," Coburn said in a press release. "Sadly, this is a widespread problem. Agencies like the IRS and Veterans Affairs have hundreds of employees on their payrolls that do nothing but full-time union work paid for by taxpayer dollars. This bill will restore the public's trust by ensuring federal employees —and the taxpayer funds that support them —are instead used to appropriately execute the mission of every federal agency."

Coburn and fellow Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) expressed concern about official time last Tuesday during Katherine Archuleta's confirmation hearing when she made her case to be the next director of the Office of Personnel Management. The lawmakers were disappointed by statistics showing employees spent 3.4 million man hours on union work in 2012.

Total official time hours rose to an all time high in the past seven years, a recent OPM report said. In 2011, employees spent 2.82 hours each on union-related work, as opposed to 2.69 in fiscal 2007, the report stated.

The legislation is a companion bill to H.R. 107, sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.). H.R. 107, reintroduced in January, limits the circumstances in which official time may be used, while the Senate bill would eliminate official time altogether.

Federal News Radio has requested comment from the American Federation of Government Employees.

Cogan Schneier is an intern for Federal News Radio.

RELATED STORIES:

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

Archuleta makes case to senators to be next OPM director

Lawmakers at odds over official time