Bargaining Unit Federal Employees’ Official Time Increased Considerably: OPMApril 10, 2017 / by Sonny Dothard
As per a report shared by OPM bargaining unit federal employees’ are using more formal time when compared to the last report. AFGE considers this time to be minuscule as compared to the times used by the entire workforce. The time estimates are far below the federal employee benefits & compensation. A new bill has also been proposed that would impact the retirement annuities of feds.
Bargaining Unit Federal Employees’ Official Time Estimate
According to a long-awaited report released by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently, bargaining unit federal employees have used more official time in 2014 fiscal as compared to 2012 fiscal year. The timing of the report is notable as it comes at a time when the House lawmakers are suggesting some limitations to its use in a few agencies.
To be specific, bargaining unit, federal employees spent about 3,468,170 on official time in 2014 fiscal which is 0.84 percent increase over 2012. Employees individually spent 2.88 hours on official time in 2014 which is more than 2.81-hour rate of two years before the said year. Agencies have spent around USD 162.5 million on official time in 2014 which is a 3.4 percent increase over the 2012 report.
OPM calculates the total official time cost estimates by multiplying the numbers of hours that are reported by average bargaining unit, employee hourly wage in each agency plus the fringe benefits. OPM mentioned that the total official time’s estimates represented about one-tenth of 1 percent of the total cost of federal employee benefits and salaries in 2014.
- David Cox, the National President of American Federation of Government Employees, stated that OPM’s report confirms that the official time used by the federal workers is minuscule when it is compared to the entire workforce, and yet the benefits availed by American taxpayers are enormous.
Changing the Formula…Not Yet
OPM also revealed that it considered changing the formula for calculating the costs of official time as per a recommendation of the Government Accountability Office but ultimately it stuck to the earlier method only. The report pointed out that the agency considered the value of maintaining a constant approach to cost estimates which allows meaningful comparisons from one year to another. The agency also considered the time and resources that were needed to implement the alternate methodologies and to provide official time estimates for all the agencies.
The New Act
The clearance of Official Time Reform Act of 2017 by The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is a vital change that must be mentioned. As per this act, any days that are spent by an employee on official time would be prevented from counted toward the employees’ retirement annuity.
A New Bill
Another bill entitled The Veterans, Employees, and Taxpayers Protection Act limits the VA employees from spending more than half of their work hours on official time. VA employees who are involved in direct patient care would not be allowed to spend over 25 percent of the work hours on official time. This bill also bars physicians, podiatrists, dentists, optometrists and chiropractors from using the official time at all.
Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) was the one who introduced this legislation after GAO had reported about the department’s unreliable official time data. The department also supports Arrington’s bill and stated that it didn’t seem reasonable that an employee spends 100 percent of hours on official time.
VA’s Official Time Hours
VA is the second-largest government department, so it is obvious that it had most official time hours and spent the most as compared to any other reporting agency. As per OPM report, its employees spent more hours on official time in 2014 as compared to 2012. But the official time rate per employee reduced in 2014. It clearly indicates that more employees are using the official time, but they are doing it for shorter periods individually.
Cutting Back on Hours
Most agencies have reduced the total number of official time hours the bargaining unit federal employees used in 2014. About 37 agencies admitted that their employees spent fewer hours on official time while 20 agencies confessed that the employees used more. Four agencies said that there were no changes.
To prepare a report regarding bargaining unit federal employees official time, OPM collected the data from the agencies own manual reports, their attendance system, and the Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) system. The agency also asked other agencies to explain any and all discrepancies between departments’ information and the EHRI data.
OPM said that the agencies which report official time by using EHRI were asked to verify the official time hours used by the employee representatives within the organizations to validate how these hours were used within the four specifically predefined categories, namely mid-term negotiations, term negotiations, general labor-management relations and dispute resolution.
It is clear that there has been some increase in bargaining unit federal employees official time. The lawmakers see it as an opportunity to impact the federal employee benefits and retirement annuities by introducing new laws.