- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Taxpayers paid the salaries of tens of thousands of federal employees who were put on paid administrative leave for misconduct but weren’t fired from their jobs, according to an audit this week that suggests agencies aren’t doing a very good job of getting rid of bad workers.

More than 250 employees were put on leave for at least a year, yet still collected $31 million in salary, the Government Accountability Office said. More than 4,000 others were put on leave for at least three months from 2011 to 2013, and 53,055 were put on leave for at least a month, the GAO said.

Those sorts of long absences are usually doled out because an agency deems an employee “a threat” to other workers, or because the employee’s presence would be disruptive, GAO investigators said.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who requested the report along with Sen. Tom Coburn and Rep. Darrell Issa, said it made no sense to spend taxpayers’ money on workers who weren’t doing their jobs.

“Paid leave is an excuse for managers not to manage and put off a decision on what to do with employees accused of misconduct or who blow the whistle or dispute a personnel action,” Mr. Grassley said. “The mentality seems to be ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and that’s not the way to run the government or act responsibly with tax dollars.”

One unnamed employee at the Homeland Security Department spent 730 days on paid administrative leave over the last three years. The Agriculture Department, meanwhile, had the highest rate of employees taking excessive administrative leave, with nearly 2 percent taking more than the average.

Some of the examples of paid administrative leave have become infamous. Former IRS employee Lois G. Lerner was on administrative leave for four months before she finally retired from the agency, amid an investigation into whether she illegally targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny.

And a former inspector general, Charles Edwards, has been on administrative leave for five months amid a probe into whether he botched investigations.

The Agriculture Department said it needed better guidance from the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), but said it will also look at its own policies to see if changes are needed internally.

“Given the high cost to taxpayers, it is important that each federal agency increase its accountability and improve its stewardship of the use of paid administrative leave,” William P. Milton Jr., a Human Resources official at the Department, wrote in an official reply to the study.

OPM said it would try to issue better guidance about who should be placed on paid administrative leave.

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