Opinion: Columnists

Diana Furchtgott-Roth: The federal employees who don't work for taxpayers

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In a new report issued on Feb. 15, just before a federal holiday and a congressional recess, the Office of Personnel Management announced that the government paid more than $156 million in 2011 for some of its employees to work as representatives for government unions, up from $139 million in 2010 and $129 million in 2009.

Government employees spent more than 3.4 million hours in 2011 not working on government duties, up from 3.1 million in 2010 and 3 million in 2009.

How about eliminating these hours during the sequester ... and thereafter?

The time that federal workers spend working for their unions and not for taxpayers goes by the Orwellian name of "official time." According to OPM, "Official time, broadly defined, is paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees."

Employees on "official time" represent unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Federation of Federal Employees. OPM does not report numbers of government employees on "official time," only numbers of hours.

For instance, the Department of Transportation spent $17.7 million in 2011 on 264,562 hours of official time, including salaries and benefits for both full-time and part-time employees. Some department employees spent part of their day working for the government union, and others worked for their union full-time.

Americans for Limited Government, a conservative nonprofit organization, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for numbers of full-time employees on official time to all federal agencies in 2012.

According to a letter from Kathy Ray, FOIA officer at the Department of Transportation, 35 active workers did no work at all for the department in 2012.

Employees on full-time "official time" were paid an average salary of $138,000, for a total cost to the department of $4.8 million annually. Many more Department of Transportation employees spent some of their day at departmental duties, with the rest as "official time," courtesy of the taxpayer.

At the upper end of the salary range, Phil Barbarello, Dean Iacopelli and Timon Kalpaxis, three New York air traffic controllers who represent that National Air Traffic Controllers Association, were paid $179,700 annually for "official time," plus benefits. At the lower end, James Crawford, a program analyst in Atlantic City representing the National Federation of Federal Employees, was paid $80,748.

Seventeen of the Transportation Department's employees who are on full-time "official time" are air traffic controllers, in cities ranging from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York. All but one of these air traffic controllers make a six-digit salary.

The Federal Aviation Administration is warning that 100 air traffic control towers might close due to the sequester. Perhaps these controllers could be drafted into service to pick up the slack.

The Environmental Protection Agency spent $2.6 million on part-time and full-time official time in 2011.

In all, 17 employees were paid a total of $1.6 million, or an average of $96,000 each, to not work at all for the taxpayer.

The three highest earners, each making $110,104 annually, were Rosezell Canty-Letsome and Diane Lynne representing the National Treasury Employees Union, and Karen Kellen representing the American Federation of Government Employees. At the low end of the range, Amer Al-Mudallal, a chemist who represents the National Treasury Employees Union, was paid $88,397.

Federal union representatives cannot negotiate salaries or fringe benefits, because federal compensation is set by statute. Federal workers are not allowed to strike. President Obama decries the sequester when his administration spends $156 million annually on "official time." Here's an obvious place to begin cutting.

Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth (dfr@manhattan-institute.org), former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

11.30.12 DOT Responsive Records

EPA FOIA Response FullTime Official Time Employees 10.25.12

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Diana Furchtgott-Roth

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The Washington Examiner