Dozens of Department of Homeland Security employees spend at least half of their time working for labor unions instead of taxpayers while still drawing full salaries, according to a new data obtained by the Washington Examiner.
Homeland Security had 24 workers who spent at least 1,000 hours in one year on “official time,” which allows them to be released from their normal duties to do union work while still drawing full pay and benefits from the government.
That figure does not include employees of Customs and Border Protection, a component of Homeland Security, which accounts for about two-thirds of the official time allotted by the agency.
The limited and piecemeal disclosure from DHS does not allow a full accounting of how many people took official time agencywide or how many hours each of them used.
As the Washington Examiner reported last month, Homeland Security refused to disclose the names of any of its personnel taking official time, citing privacy concerns.
That still stands.
But after the Examiner story ran, the main office at DHS agreed to provide a unique identifying number for individuals, allowing the total number of hours each individual took to be tallied.
The disclosure from the main DHS office covers most of its components, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.
Official time use by federal agencies
Click on the link to view a preview in Google Spreadsheets, and download to explore the document more.
Note: These agencies have supplied some or all of the data requested either in databases or through PDF files that had to be converted and cleaned by the Washington Examiner. Revisions to these databases will be made as new information is provided and other agencies will be added to the list once their responses are received, converted and clarified.
CBP, which includes the Border Patrol, disclosed its hours separately and still refuses to provide unique identifiers or give totals for individual employees.
That sort of secrecy does not sit well with Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., sponsor of a bill that would stop the federal pay of employees while they are on official time.
“It tells me they are not very transparent,” said Gingrey, who believes unions should be paying the salaries of federal workers when they are on official time.
“These people are not breaking the law, so why redact their names? Are they ashamed of what they are doing?” Gingrey said.
Federal law has allowed official time since 1978. Governmentwide, agencies recognized nearly 3.4 million hours of official time that cost taxpayers almost $156 million in 2011, the last year for which complete figures are available from the Office of Personnel Management.
The annual OPM reports show total hours and cost for each agency, not a breakdown of who took the time and which unions benefitted.
Homeland Security allowed about 208,000 hours of official time in 2012, based on partial-year figures released by the agency. CBP accounted for about 137,000 of those hours.
The new database from DHS runs from February 2012 through mid-July 2013, so it does not include a full fiscal or calendar year. The Examiner analyzed the disclosure for the most recent 12 months that were reported.
Among those whose hours could be tracked, 11 spent more than 1,500 hours on official time. A standard work year is 2,087 hours, according to OPM.
But with holidays and vacations, a typical federal employee is on the job roughly 1,900 hours per year.
The employee who took the most time is an accountant in FEMA’s Washington, D.C., office, according to the new data.
The individual spent 1,739 hours on official time in the 12-month period reviewed by the Examiner and drew an annual salary of $112,774 from taxpayers.
Robert Autrey is president of the American Federation of Government Employees local that represents FEMA employees. He also is an accountant with the agency.
Autrey could not be reached for comment. Because no names are listed in the data given to the Examiner, it could not be determined if he was the employee taking the most hours.
The most costly DHS employee on official time was an ICE attorney based in Miami. That person took 1,656 hours and has an annual salary of $126,175.
DHS reported 146 individuals who took at least 100 hours of official time in the year reviewed by the Examiner. Most of them work for CIS and ICE. Almost 1,200 DHS employees outside CBP took official time.
Chris Crane, president of the AFGE-affiliated National ICE Council, said his union is allotted four full-time positions nationwide, but he and other top union officers generally parcel some of that time to other representatives.
Grievances and other personnel disputes are normally handled at the local level. National ICE Council officers spend much of their time ensuring agency managers follow the law and federal regulations, and protecting rank-and-workers from retaliation, he said.
“The union gives us the ability to be whistleblowers,” Crane said. “What we are supposed to do is bring law enforcement experience to policy.
"Our agency is run by attorneys who have never carried guns, who have never put handcuffs on anyone. ICE just basically runs over us.
"So, we spend all of our time basically in conflict with the agency because the management culture is just so retaliatory toward the employees.”
A DHS spokesman did not respond to a reporter's telephone calls or emails seeking comment. The agency did release an explanation of documents disclosed through the federal Freedom of Information Act that states no employee is on full-time release for 2,080 hours.
Multiple bargaining agreements have provisions for at least one full-time position, typically the president of the union local, and at least one half-time position.
Others grant large blocks of hours to be used at the discretion of the union president. For instance, the agreement between CIS and AFGE grants a bank of 30,000 hours plus 4,000 hours for training.
Additional but unspecified amounts of time are allowed for contract negotiations and representing workers in discrimination complaints.
CBP officials refused to say how many of its employees are on full-time release because the Examiner has appealed the agency’s decision to withhold names of union representatives.
“We’re happy to help you but we can’t while you have a FOIA request/appeal pending on the same issue,” spokeswoman Erlinda Byrd said.