OPM releases long-awaited report on official time

(This story was updated Oct. 7, 2014 at 7:30 a.m. to include quotes from the American Federation of Government Employees.)

After months of urging from lawmakers, the Office of Personnel Management released a new report on official time, including data from fiscal year 2012.

Under official time, agencies allow their employees to perform union-related work in lieu of their regularly assigned work. Official time hours totaled nearly 3.5 million in FY 2012, with cost estimates at $157 million, according to OPM’s data.

The agency’s release of the highly-anticipated report comes about six months late for Reps. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.).

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In March 2014, Ross and Gingrey wrote a letter to Director Katherine Archuleta, asking OPM to release the report by April 18.

They raised concerns that OPM would cease publication of the annual report on official time, citing Archuleta’s testimony from July 2013, in which she said she couldn’t commit to publishing the report.

“Since taxpayers pay the salary of all federal employees, they have a right to know how much of their money is used for conducting union business while on the clock,” Ross said in a statement provided by his office.

The official time numbers in 2012 are up slightly from the previous year. In 2011, feds worked a total of 3.4 million hours of official time. The rate of hours per employee, however, dipped slightly in 2012.

Employees at the Veterans Affairs Department reported the greatest total number of official time hours in 2012 — slightly more than 1 million.

The National Labor Relations Board had the greatest official time rate — 11.73 hours per employee.

About 60 percent of the non-postal federal workforce is represented by labor unions.

OPM said that past reports have focused primarily on hours and costs resulting from official time. The newest report, however, offers a “more comprehensive look at how labor-management relations is structured” and its potential benefits.

The Naval Sea Systems Command and Metal Trades Department, for example, implemented a program called “Hour-a-Day.” Employees put forth ideas on how to more efficiently structure their days, resulting in increased productivity and cost savings for the agency.

“Official time is time well spent,” said J. David Cox, president of American Federation of Government Employees. The union supports official time and says it saves money and increases efficiency in the long run.

“It also allows union representatives to defend the rights of colleagues facing discrimination, retaliation for blowing the whistle on management and unsafe working conditions, making the federal government safer and more just for everyone,” Cox said.

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