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Topics: Labor Unions

Op-Ed: Time for an official end to federal employee union subsidies

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Labor unions,Labor

Did you know you're paying for union officials to do union business with your tax dollars, a practice known as "official time"?

If not, you aren't the only one -- official time statistics are kept obscure from the public.

To remedy this lack of transparency, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., recently introduced H.R. 568, a bill to make the number of government employees using official time and its cost public in an annual report.

The bill was passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which explained why the legislation is needed: "Currently, there is no accurate reporting of official time, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year."

Although spending public funds for the exclusive benefit of a private entity should be illegal, one would hope at a minimum that the expenditures would be tracked, recorded and disclosed for public inspection. But that is not the case. Information regarding the costs of official time is incomplete.

First, the report published by the Office of Personnel Management -- the federal agency tasked with collecting official time data -- does not include how many employees conduct official time activity, the cost of travel, per diem, arbitration, offices or supplies.

Second, OPM's last report on official time is from 2011 and was only made public when Ross and Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., wrote a letter to OPM demanding it publish the official time report.

Third, research done by the Competitive Enterprise Institute's labor policy team has unearthed a report from the Social Security Administration (available on Workplacechoice.org) that contradicts OPM's official time costs for that agency.

There appears to be an approximately $2 million discrepancy in the cost of employees' salaries and benefits for official time in fiscal 2011 reported by OPM and the SSA.

According to the 2011 Social Security Administration's "Report on Expenditures for Union Activities," the dollar value of employees' compensation for official time is listed at $11.2 million and time spent on union business at 229,195 hours.

OPM reports the same number of hours in its report, "Official Time Usage in the Federal Government," but states that they only cost the SSA $9.9 million in salary and benefits.

That discrepancy alone amounts to more than $1 million. If the cost of travel, office space and arbitration expenses incurred by the public for federal employees on official time were included (OPM does not report these costs), the difference between the reports jumps to approximately $2.8 million.

Whether the difference is a result of incompetence or political intrigue, there is no merit in any subsidy for this union activity.

Fortunately, the Federal Employee Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 785) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. It would simply eliminate the practice of union official time in the federal government. A similar bill sponsored by Gingrey awaits passage in the House.

On one hand, it is a positive development that these bills are designed to expose and eliminate such blatant government waste; on the other hand, these bills are a solution to a problem that should not exist in the first place.

Trey Kovacs is managing editor of Workplacechoice.org. Alex Habighorst is a research associate for Workplacechoice.org.

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