In a report touching on a topic of widening interest in the government as unprecedented numbers of federal employees are working from home—mixing personal and official business—an IG has said that because an agency had no firm policy on limits of personal emails during working hours, it could not find a violation by an employee.
In a report involving events that predated the pandemic, the IG at Veterans Affairs said its auditors “identified emails sent by the employee during his duty hours related to a variety of personal matters, including household responsibilities, finances, and dependent care.” It noted departmental policy—similar to that in place at other agencies—that employees generally are not to use government equipment for personal purposes, with exceptions allowed if the use does not interfere with official business and involves minimal additional expense to the government.
The report said that the employee “acknowledged that he used his VA computer and email for personal communications during his duty hours” but both he and his supervisor described the nature of his work as one that “ebbs and flows,” leaving periods in which he is waiting for responses and during which he sometimes sent personal emails. However, both also added that the employee “frequently worked outside his duty hours and on leave when necessary to complete his work.”
Said the report: “The OIG could not substantiate that the employee misused official time or made excessive personal use of VA resources. VA has not established criteria defining how much personal use of VA email is excessive and appears to have deferred to the judgment of its supervisors, who are in the best position to monitor employees’ performance and productivity.”
In this case, the report added, the supervisor “stated that she had not seen any decline in the employee’s productivity, which she described as ‘in an outstanding manner to the betterment of the organization.’”