The House has approved a bill (HR-1293) to require OPM to report annually on each agency’s use of official time, on-the-clock time that federal employees can spend on certain union-related duties, including the numbers of employees who spend most or all of their working hours in that status.
Currently, OPM collects certain data on official time even though there is no reporting requirement in law. OPM reported in March that during 2014 3,468,000 hours were spent government-wide, up nearly 1 percent from 2012, at a cost in salary and benefits of $162.5 million, up 3.4 percent, with an average of 2.88 hours per bargaining unit employee, up from 2.81.
Use of official time can fluctuate year-to-year, depending for example on whether negotiations over major contracts are being conducted. At the outset of the Obama administration in 2009 the usage rate was 2.58 hours per represented employee; however, even the 2014 rate was well below that of 2002, the first year reported in the Bush administration, when the average per employee was 4.21 hours.
Those reports do not show how many employees spend all of their duty hours on official time, or any other percentage breakdown. Under the House bill that information would be required, along with the purposes the time was used for, the percentage spent on those who don’t pay dues, the impact of the time on the agency’s operations, and an accounting of office space agencies provide to unions.
Similar bills have been pending in Congress for years; while several cleared the House committee level, none had reached a vote in the full House until this year’s version.