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PATTERSON AND KOVACS: Cut spending: Permanently furlough ‘official time’ workers

Taxpayers should not be forced to pay unions

 

As politicians of both parties ride through the country Paul Revere-like in their warning about the dire consequences of the looming automatic spending cuts coming with sequestration, a lot of Americans are worried that essential government services will see a dangerous reduction in their operating resources.
Yet there is a way to cut substantial amounts of federal spending that will have zero effect on public services. Simply get rid of federal employees who do no work for the federal government.

Yes, such creatures exist, thanks to a bizarre provision in federal labor law called “official time,” which allows a unionized federal worker to work for his union while on his taxpayer-funded duty. Indeed, taxpayers actually pay public employees to labor for unions, which are, it cannot be stressed enough, private enterprises.

For example, James O’Grady is an environmental scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who makes $93,175 per year. Only he doesn’t do anything for the EPA, or the taxpayers writing his checks. Instead, he works 100 percent of his time for his union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

What's more, he’s not alone. According to records obtained by Americans for Limited Government through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the Department of Transportation (DOT) employed 35 workers who only carried out union work in 2012, while the EPA had 17. All of this amounts to a massive, expensive public donation to the coffers of labor bosses: More than three dozen of these “100 percent official time” workers from the DOT and EPA made more than $100,000 per year.

In fact, the problem is a large and growing one, spread throughout the federal workforce. According to an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) report entitled "Labor-Management Relations: Reports on Official Time," federal employees spent 3.4 million hours on union activities in fiscal 2011, costing taxpayers a whopping $155 million in one year alone. Overlooking this waste, our nation’s capital is in the midst of an embarrassing tizzy over where and how to cut government spending.

In the face of looming sequestration cuts, the EPA -- like a lot of agencies -- is looking at possible furloughs of existing employees to trim its budget. The Associated Press reports:

“[I]f agencies do insist on furloughs, unions say they can bargain over when they take place and other terms that could help workers in financial trouble… ‘We plan to exercise those rights,’ said Jacueline Simon, public policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees.”

Obviously, union officials are none too happy with the possibility of these furloughs, and are strongly requesting their agencies find alternative routes to savings. Mr. O’Grady, for example, in an email to EPA management, practically begged for cuts to come at the expense of government contractors – or anywhere else – instead of his union.  Talk about nerve.

It should come as no surprise that the whole mess is yet another legacy of President Jimmy Carter and his 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which officially authorized “official time.” At the time, Carter boasted that the Act would “promote the general welfare” and “contribute to the effective conduct of public business.” Today’s OPM, the agency which tracks official time, continues to preach about official time's alleged benefits, claiming that the practice is a “core component of the government’s carefully crafted collective bargaining system.”

Indeed it is, and that’s the problem. Our collective bargaining system is so outrageous, and so biased in favor of unions, that taxpayers are actually forced to pour their hard-earned dollars into the pockets of union bosses.

That’s money we can and should be saving. So let’s send government employees who really work for unions on furlough – a permanent one.

Matt Patterson is senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where Trey Kovacs is labor policy analyst.

 

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