CHICAGO – A recent report reveals the legal practice of “official time,” under which government agencies pay staff on a full-time basis to work for a labor union rather than for taxpayers, comes with a hefty price tag.
“Although the record keeping isn’t perfect … the estimates of costs to taxpayers range from roughly $1 billion in the last 20 years at the federal level alone, to numbers approaching $1 billion annually when state and local employees are included in the totals,” Jared Labell, executive director of Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America, told the Record.
Labell said the Civil Service Commission instructed government agencies to authorize the practice of official time beginning in 1976. The practice became law in 1978 under the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA).
He said the fight for transparency is as old as the CSRA itself.
“In recent years, the Bush administration finally required detailed reporting of official time and the activities conducted, but that was just as the administration was preparing to vacate the White House, and the Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Management ceased to report data,” Labell said.
The Americans for Limited Government Foundation produced a summer 2016 report titled “Full-time Official Time: A Special Report Exposing Taxpayer-Funded Union Employees.” The report said that 490 individuals had been disclosed as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests as working full-time for a union using taxpayer dollars.
Specifically, the foundation reported the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. Department of Transportation is paying 26 full-time official time employees a total of more than $3.6 million, with 24 of those employees earning annual salaries in excess of $100,000.
The foundation reported the U.S. Postal Service disclosed 274 of its employees are on full-time official time status, at a total cost to the agency of $16.5 million; the Department of Agriculture is paying 29 official time employees more than $2.2 million; the Environmental Protection Agency is paying 73 official time employees more than $8 million and the Small Business Administration is paying two official time employees a total of $199,644.
Also, the foundation reported the General Services Administration pays 17 salaried official time employees a total of more than $1.6 million; the Department of Energy pays two official time employees a total of $304,701; the Department of Education pays three official time employees a total of $286,115; the Department of Labor pays 17 official time employees a total of more than $1.6 million and the Department of Commerce pays four official time employees a total of $373,055.
Finally, the foundation reported the Department of Homeland Security pays 39 official time employees more than $2.7 million and the Department of the Interior pays three official time employees $263,873 in total.
The most recent report published by the Office of Personnel Management in 2012 revealed the federal government had spent more than $157 million on salaries of official time employees.
“The figures referenced above are but a small piece of the total cost associated with the practice of federal agencies providing labor unions with free employees,” the foundation said in its report. “This is a large problem.”
Labell said 47 state constitutions currently prohibit using public expenditures to aid private entities and that some lawmakers have proposed legislation that would enact a federal gift clause to prohibit similar issues.
He said the only benefit for agencies that pay employees to perform union work is a political one.
“Taxpayer-funded salaries should not enable government unions to grow their power and influence to further extract tax dollars from the public, yet that’s exactly how the system works,” Labell said.