OPM’s newest report on official time for federal employees to perform certain union-related duties comes just ahead of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that likely will become the latest illustration of deep differences of opinion on the topic.
Some Republicans have proposed bills for years to reduce or eliminate official time, arguing that all working time should be spent on official duties. The House last year passed a bill (HR-1293) to get a fuller accounting–including of how many employees spend most or all of their working hours in that status and the value of workspace agencies provide to unions–as a possible first step in that direction.
OPM has signaled that it shares that view; in announcing the data it called that time “taxpayer-funded union time” and gave examples of how some employees in high-demand occupations such as nursing have spent time on union matters rather than their regular duties.
Similar OPM reports issued during the Obama administration had called official time “a core component of the federal government’s carefully crafted collective bargaining system” and stressed that the Civil Service Reform Act, which authorized it, deemed to be “in the public interest.” In contrast, the new report says that some provisions of that law “result in considerable costs to the government and taxpayers, such as matters involving official time, without any comprehensive evidence that these provisions support an effective and efficient government in all instances.”
Director Jeff Pon said that OPM “will continue exploring opportunities to identify useful practices for monitoring and reporting on the use of official time and sharing these practices with agencies across the government to assist agencies in strengthening internal controls and increasing transparency, accountability, and accuracy.” Unions argue the cost is a tiny portion of the overall federal payroll and cited the potential for savings when the time is used to reach agreements over matters that would otherwise result in formal complaints.