Official Time Gets Senate Scrutiny

By Tom Fletcher • Friday, June 7, 2013 4:33 pm

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Senator’s Coburn and Portman have sent a letter to the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinseki asking him to clarify department policies with regards to government employees conducting union business instead working to help our nation’s veterans. This is particularly disturbing considering the enormous backlog facing the Department of Veterans Affairs and the support needed to those who have served.  Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is sponsoring the Federal Employee Accountability Act that would ban “official time” thus preventing federally unionized workers from conducting union business at the expense of the taxpayer.   
 
The letter:
 
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
 
Veterans Affairs’ (VA) has made ending veteran homelessness, eliminating the claims backlog, and expanding access to benefits and services its top priorities for Fiscal Year 2014.  We are encouraged by your confidence that these goals can be accomplished in the near future.  However, in order to accomplish these challenging goals, as you might agree, it is essential that every VA employee is dedicated 100 percent to our nation’s mission of providing the best healthcare to our veterans in a timely manner. 
 
Recently, it has come to our attention that a number of VA employees are paid government salaries, funded entirely by taxpayers, to perform work totally unrelated to their formal governmental duties.  In a practice known as “official time,” taxpayers pay for federal employees to perform union duties instead of their formal jobs they were initially hired to do.  Federal employees not serving veterans during official time could lead to the failure of VA’s top goals and the well-being of those who have sacrificed in the service our nation, could be compromised. 
 
Moreover, the recent decision to overtime “surge” to help eliminate the backlog is troubling considering VA employees who should be completely dedicated to serving veterans are authorized for large amounts of official time.  Accepting policies that foster poor personnel management practices in a critical period of VA’s history will undoubtedly negatively impact veterans who could have otherwise been served by taxpayer dollars now reserved for federal employee overtime pay.
 
Documents from your department list 188 VA employees serving in 100 percent official time capacity during the time period spanning January 1, 2012 through February 2013.[1]  During this time of sequestration and tight budgets, it is important to know how so many employees can be spared to serve the interest of outside groups, instead of carrying out jobs that are essential to the health, safety and transition of our nation’s veterans.
 
Click Here To Rest of the Letter
 

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