There has, fortunately, been increased media scrutiny on the number of federal employees who remain on paid leave with full, taxpayer funded benefits for months at a time, some of whom are under investigation on quite serious charges. Last month we looked at the Department of Homeland Security, where nearly one hundred workers remain in this type of holding pattern for six months or longer. Now that the calendar has flipped over to November, Katherine Mcintire Peters at Government Executive Magazine moves the focus over to the hilariously named Environment Protection Agency, where an equally anger-inducing number of workers and supervisors are sitting home collecting their taxpayer funded paychecks and full benefits for extended periods. And the reasons that some of them wound up in this situation will come as a shock to even jaded observers of the government.
Insubordination, disruptive behavior, falsifying documents, threatening colleagues—those were the least egregious reasons employees at the Environmental Protection Agency were placed on extended administrative leave as documented in a recent audit by the agency inspector general. Administrative leave is an excused absence without loss of pay or benefits, including personal leave time.
There was the employee jailed for felony drug possession, and another who admitted to knowingly having sex with a minor—both of whom spent months away from work while still pocketing pay as EPA managers and administrators determined their employment status.
The job of Inspector General at any federal agency these days can’t be an easy one and the inspectors are probably feeling pretty darned unappreciated. (Just think of all the work that the IG at the State Department did before finally turning Huma Abedin’s payroll fraud case over to Justice only to have them plop it in the circular file.) The EPA’s IG has apparently been on this particular case for quite a while. As Government Executive reports, they issued an early warning report to Gina McCarthy in the fall of 2014, warning her that there were simply more people on long term paid leave than could be justified. This particular aspect of the investigation isn’t dealing with something that’s technically illegal, but is simply outrageous to taxpayers who have a hard enough time keeping their own jobs even if they have spotless records and it brings unwanted pressure on the agency when the peasants find out how their pennies are being spent.
None of this is going to change in the short term, unfortunately, absent some serious changes in the rules of engagement. And that’s either going to require some buy-in from the public sector unions or the removal of said unions from these departments. The problem is rooted so deeply, however, that progress seems to be non-existent. Back in June the head of the OPM issued a directive along these lines after the media exposed the fact that the total number of federal workers on long term paid leave was actually in the tens of thousands.
In a memo last week, Office of Personnel Management director Katherine Archuleta told agency heads that the extensive use of administrative leave throughout government should be just the opposite: a “temporary solution,” only for problem employees who pose a danger to themselves or their colleagues.
In other words, if someone poses a threat to his own safety or the safety of others, send him home. If the situation could take a long time to resolve, like most misconduct cases, keep them on the job.
Clearly the various department heads are either ignoring Archuleta’s order or find themselves powerless to comply. Meanwhile, roughly 57,000 federal employees continue to stay at home collecting a combined total of nearly three quarters of a billion dollars per year in salary alone. (The amount we’re spending on them for benefits is not incorporated into that figure.)
Don’t you feel better now?