The VA has no idea how much time employees spend "working" on union business

The public employee unions have a pretty sweet deal with the government which is very similar to the benefits enjoyed by their civilian counterparts. Some of their workers are authorized to spend a certain amount of what’s known as “official time” conducting union business while they’re on the clock and supposedly doing the business of the taxpayers. There are supposed to be limits on this benefit, but in agencies such as the Veterans Affairs Department, just how much of this is going on? Don’t ask the agency’s administrators because it turns out that they have no way of tracking it. (Government Executive)

The Veterans Affairs Department has no standardized way to measure how much time employees spend conducting union representation activities, according to a new report, preventing it from determining how much it spends on those workers.

VA reported its employees spent more than 1 million hours on official time in fiscal 2015, but a Government Accountability Office report found that number cannot be trusted. Official time allows employees to work in government offices and collect government salaries while conducting union work such as mediation.

While the Office of Personnel Management collects annual, governmentwide official time data, it has no set standards for how it should be collected.

It turns out that OPM (Office of Personnel Management) has guidelines which mandate the collection of data on this subject, but there are different methods in place across various agencies and in the case of the VA, multiple systems. One older attendance reporting system which is being phased out (but is still in use in places at least through 2018) doesn’t even have a method for recording official time for union work. GAO visited five VA offices to check on this situation and only two of them were in compliance.

One of the five facilities GAO visited for its audit did not record official time anywhere, while two recorded it outside the time and attendance systems. VA has failed to properly train employees on how to keep track of official time, GAO said.

Looking through their report, we’re not talking about chump change here. Even with the amount of “official time” they manage to record, records indicate that more than a million hours of government worker time was spent on union business in 2015 (still drawing a taxpayer funded salary, of course) and there were at least 350 government employees who worked full time on union affairs, doing zero work for the public while still drawing full salaries. They also have government offices, maintained and paid for by you, which are dedicated to nothing but union business.

Didn’t I hear something about the new broom sweeping clean this year? In particular, the VA is one of the most scandal plagued outfits in the bunch. I was already skeptical of the President’s decision to appoint David Shulkin to head the agency, but stories such as this one remind us that fresh faces and outlooks are required. These union practices are the old business as usual and there’s certainly some cost savings to be found in this arena, particularly if you spread reforms across the entire bureaucracy.

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