The VA does not accurately track the time its employees spend on official time–on-the-clock time that employees with union responsibilities can spend on certain union-related duties–because it does not have a standardized way for its facilities to record and calculate that time, the GAO has said.

Official time has been a target of criticism from conservative members of Congress for years; unions argue that the authority was specifically designed by the Civil Service Reform Act to recompense them for their duty to represent all bargaining unit members regardless of whether they pay dues.

According to the most recent official count from OPM, 1.1 million work hours were spent on union duties at VA in 2012–working out to about 4.3 hours per bargaining unit employee, above the 2.8-hour overall government-wide average.

However, the VA uses two separate time and attendance systems that capture official time differently, and it further has provided inconsistent training and guidance on how to use the associated recording codes, GAO found. Similarly, it provides its facilities with a range of options for calculating the amount of official time used, which also results in inconsistent data, the report said.

“At most selected VA facilities, VA managers and union officials GAO interviewed cited similar benefits of employees using official time, such as improving decision-making and resolving problems. However, they had differing views on challenges associated with employees’ use of official time, such as when and how much official time may be used,” GAO said.

Further, the VA does not track the amount of space allocated for representational activities, it said. At five selected facilities GAO found that such space accounted for less than 1 percent of the square footage at that location.