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Portman and Coburn Introduce Bill to Limit Use of "Official Time" in Federal Workforce

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Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act, a bill that would reduce "official time" for government employees. Under the practice of "official time", as authorized under 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, federal employees can be paid by taxpayers to complete duties that are not related to the mission of their agency, allowing in some cases for employees to perform union-related activities -- some even full time -- while on federal payroll. According to the Office of Personnel Management, in 2011, the government spent $155 million on 3.4 million hours used for "official time."

"Federal Agencies like the VA need to make sure that they have all hands on deck to fulfill their missions," said Senator Portman. "Unfortunately, however, many agencies allow their taxpayer-funded employees to focus their time and energy on full-time political, union activities that don't have anything to do with the official task at hand. At a place like the VA, taxpayer dollars should be funding employees to tackle the challenges of the claims backlog and providing necessary medical care to our veterans. Our veterans deserve nothing less than that, and this legislation will ensure that happens."

"Using taxpayer dollars to finance what is often highly partisan and political full-time union work is a grievous violation of the public's trust," said Dr. Coburn. "Sadly, this is a widespread problem. Agencies like the IRS and VA have hundreds of employees on their payrolls that do nothing but full-time union work paid for by taxpayer dollars. This bill will restore the public's trust by ensuring federal employees -- and the taxpayer funds that support them -- are instead used to appropriately execute the mission of every federal agency."

The Federal Employee Accountability Act would repeal the provisions that entitle federal employees to official time while providing an exception for circumstances where both unions and agencies agree the use of official time is "reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest." The bill would not affect federal employees' ability to organize or have union representation in hearings. The bill is a companion bill to H.R. 107 sponsored by Representative Phil Gingrey, M.D., (R-GA).

Cosponsors of the legislation include Lamar Alexander (R-TN), John Barrasso (R-WY), Richard Burr (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), James Inhofe (R-OK), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jim Risch (R-ID), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Thune (R-SD) and David Vitter (R-LA).

This bill follows up on a letter Portman and Coburn sent to VA Secretary Shinseki in June, asking the department to clarify its procedures, practices, and policies for employees who are paid taxpayer-funded government salaries to perform work not related to government duties. The VA had 188 employees that served in 100 percent official time capacity since January 2012. With 188 additional employees instead processing veterans' benefit claims, the VA could do away with the current backlog of 25,372 claims at the Cleveland Regional Office in just over 3 months, and handle nearly 100,000 claims per year. Many of these federal employees also possess important skills for the medical care of our veteran population.


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