Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations held a hearing on official time entitled, “Union Time on the People’s Dime: A Closer Look at Official Time.” The hearing title foreshadowed the focus of the hearing, which was to advance an anti-labor agenda, by calling for the elimination of official time, and short of that, to promote various proposals to severely limit its use, and further, to scrutinize its purpose as well as those of associated activities and items such as the filing of grievances and appeals, negotiating CBAs, training for bargaining unit employees, and the office space, equipment, and IT support provided to federal employee labor organizations at agencies.
The Office of Personnel Management’s newly-released official time report, that I reported to you last week, was cited, as well as two congressional committee staff reports that were both released immediately before the start of today’s hearing. Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows’ (R-NC) report focused on the agency data his staff obtained from agencies in response to letters sent by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) earlier this year to 24 selected federal agencies related to their use of official time. As you know, when I first reported to you that these letters had been sent to agencies, NTEU worked to ensure that the Committee would not disclose or release the individual names and locations of those whose information was requested. While there was significant debate and outcry at today’s hearing over the role of official time, I can confirm that no names were released during the hearing or in the committee-issued reports.
According to the Meadows staff report, agency data shows that nearly one thousand employees of the federal government spend at least half of their working hours as union representatives, including specific types of employees such as doctors and nurses at the VA, air traffic controllers at the FAA, and tax examiners at the Department of Treasury. The report focused on the number of reported employees on at least half or full-time official time, and incorrectly reported a $1 billion total cost from official time, by counting the total annual salary and benefits for any employee who was on at least one hour of official time. Subcommittee Ranking Member Gerry Connolly’s (D-VA) committee staff also released a report which highlighted the flaws in the key findings and figures of the Meadows report, namely that fictitious numbers were reported as fact for the cited cost estimates of official time. Moreover, the Connolly report cited actual agency data confirming that official time is used sparingly, and that 92% of employees who are granted official time do so for small amounts of time. The report also provided evidence that the bulk of official time-3/4 – is used to attend meetings requested by management, and that individuals who both received bonuses and were on official time, were awarded bonuses as a result of their non-official time work, as required.
Representatives Meadows, Connolly, Jody Hice (R-GA) and Dennis Ross (R-FL) attended the subcommittee hearing. Chairman Meadows extensively discussed the need for better, more accurate official time data reporting, as well as his concerns over the need to review the taxpayer value of the activities performed under official time, and whether supervisors are forced to appease union officials. Representative Hice, a long vocal advocate to eliminate official time and who is sponsoring legislation to deny retirement service credit for work time spent on official time (H.R. 1364), focused on the salary dollar amounts of employees who are granted official time, whether federal employee unions and their members should be able to participate in legislative and political activities, and on unions’ use of agency space and equipment that in his view unfairly forces taxpayers to pay for and subsidize unions. Representative Ross primarily focused on his free-standing legislation that has passed the House of Representatives, H.R. 1293, to require a detailed annual report from OPM on agency use of official time. He also questioned whether or not there are any public benefits to official time. Representative Connolly highlighted the various reasons for official time, as well as the benefits to the public, including the assistance provided to employees who are coming forward with reports of being mistreated, or to disclose government waste, fraud, and abuse. He cited the law’s recognition for the need for a delicate balance between agency leadership and frontline employees, which is what the current federal labor-management system achieves, and the fact that it is in the public interest for there to be facilitation of dispute resolution at federal agencies.
As you know, NTEU opposes any congressional action to alter official time, and has worked extensively with both House and Senate partners to educate them on the benefits of official time, and to ensure its continued existence and availability. NTEU’s submitted statement for the hearing is available for your review. While legislation has advanced in the House to require annual reporting on agency use of official time, no measures limiting or restricting official time have moved forward in the legislative process.
I will keep you posted on any further efforts to target official time and federal employee collective bargaining rights in general.