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Wall Street Journal Market Watch

 

As Veterans Languish, Federal Employees Do Union Work

May 25, 2014

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Barry Coates, a 44-year-old Gulf War veteran from Rock Hill, South Carolina, is fighting for his life because of a year-long delay in waiting for a colonoscopy after seeing a Veterans Affairs doctor in 2011. Cancer has spread from his colon to his lungs and liver. Although he's undergoing chemotherapy, Coates says: “ I just try to live every day like it's my last day .”

That's according to a CNN report. Most people think employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs are working full time, if not overtime, to resolve the problems of our nation's veterans. But the VA paid 258 full-time employees to do no work at all for veterans in 2012. These government workers are on “official time,” and they work full time for their unions.

In government language that would make George Orwell smile, the Office of Personnel Management defines official time as “paid time off from assigned government duties to represent a union or its bargaining-unit employees.” OPM's Official Time Usage in the Federal Government reported that in 2011 Uncle Sam paid $156 million for official time for federal civil-service employees in practically all its agencies, up from $139 million in 2010.

A complete list of full-time VA employees in 2012 shows that salaries of the 258 workers ranged from $26,420 to $131,849, with an average of $61,121. Seventeen had six-figure salaries. The list was released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from Republican Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey and Americans for Limited Government, which demanded the numbers of workers at each agency on full-time official time — figures not published by OPM.

In the VA hospital that treated Coates in Columbia, South Carolina, a nurse was paid $78,181 for working full time for the American Federation of Government Employees. In the nearby VA hospital in Charleston, a physician assistant was paid $106,369 for working for the AFGE, and two other employees worked full time for the National Association of Government Employees rather than helping veterans.

At the Baltimore VA Medical Center, where the wait to process veterans' claims is the longest in America, six federal workers are on full-time official time. One nurse earned $96,805 and another $84,698 not to care for veterans, but to work for the NAGE.

The VA had 998,483 hours of official time in 2011, up 23% from 2010, at a cost of $42.5 million. The hours-per-employee rate was 4.02, compared with a government-wide average of 2.82, according to OPM.

OPM has delayed in publishing a count of official hours for 2012, despite a letter from Gingrey and Florida Republican Dennis Ross to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta to publish the data.

Gingrey and Ross wrote: “We believe that it is absolutely necessary to ensure that government employees spend their time serving the interests of their employers, namely the American taxpayer. For this reason, we feel that it is imperative for Congress and the American public to have access to timely and accurate official time reports.”

Gingrey has introduced a bill that would limit official time, and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, has a companion bill in the Senate.

Government workers on full-time official time have office space in the particular agency to which they are assigned, and are paid for full-time work by the taxpayers, including fringe benefits such as pension plans and medical insurance that many private-sector workers no longer receive. But many are not required to show up at the office.

As well as the AFGE and the NAGE, VA employees on official time represent unions including the National Federation of Federal Employees, National Nurses United, and the Service Employees International Union.

» A nurse in Massachusetts was paid $120,395 by taxpayers to work for the AFGE.

» A pharmacist in West Virginia was paid $126,571 to work for the NFFE.

» An information-technology specialist in California was paid $86,084 to represent AFGE.

All agencies have some employees on full-time official time. The Department of Transportation spent $17.7 million in 2011 on 264,562 hours of official time. At the Transportation Department, 35 active workers did no work at all for the department in 2012. They were paid an average salary of $138,000, for a total cost to the department of $4.8 million annually.

At the upper end of the salary range, three New York air traffic controllers who represent the National Air Traffic Controllers Association were paid $179,700 annually for “official time.” That included merit pay and bonuses, but not benefits such as subsidized health insurance, retirement-fund contributions, vacation and sick leave.

As you travel this Memorial Day weekend, consider that 17 of the Transportation Department's employees who are on full-time official time are air-traffic controllers in cities from Anchorage to Washington, D.C. All but one makes a six-digit salary.

Contributions from unions flow into politics, the vast majority to Democrats. In the 2012 election cycle, the SEIU, described by the Center for Responsive Politics as a “heavy hitter,” spent $18.2 million on contributions to candidates, over 99% of which went to Democrats, and $23 million on outside spending.

In the 2014 election cycle, the SEIU has given $4.4 million to candidates and spent $3.2 million on outside spending.

VA employees spent 77% of their 2012 official-time hours on “general labor-management relations,” in part because President Obama in December 2009 expanded labor-management forums in the federal government. A small fraction is spent resolving disputes or negotiating contracts.

In most workplaces, employees who don't work for the hours they are paid are called “loafers,” “slackers” or worse. In the federal government, such workers are on “official time.” At the VA, slacking can kill. Just ask Barry Coates.

Original Source: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/as-veterans-languish-federal-employees-do-union-work-2014-05-25/

 

 
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