Grassley gave DHS until Nov. 2 to respond to further questions.

Grassley gave DHS until Nov. 2 to respond to further questions. Flickr user John Pemble/iprimages

Senator Wants More Details on 88 Feds Paid to Sit Home for More Than a Year

Homeland Security Department hasn’t provided adequate answers on its use of paid administrative leave, Grassley says.

At a time when the Obama administration is seeking a governmentwide reduction in employees placed on paid leave during investigations, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is singling out the Homeland Security Department for insufficient effort.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson released Tuesday complained that the department’s responses to his concerns about 88 staffers on administrative leave for more than a year were “too broad and vague to assess whether other actions might have been more appropriate.”

DHS’ January 2015 response to a Grassley inquiry from 2014 failed to explain how the department’s actions met applicable Office of Personnel Management authority “to use administrative leave ‘for those rare circumstances’ in which the employee ‘may pose a threat to the employee or others, result in loss of or damage to government property, or otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests,’ or how its actions were consistent with the numerous” Government Accountability Office decisions “limiting administrative leave to brief duration,” the senator wrote. “DHS also failed to explain why such extended amounts of time were needed to conduct investigations into security issues, misconduct, or fitness for duty.

In its accounting of the circumstances of the 88 employees, DHS had concluded that four of the employees were on administrative leave for some three years or more; two of them were still on administrative leave at the time of DHS’ response. An additional 17 employees were reportedly on administrative leave for some two years or more, including five who remained in this status at the time of DHS’ response.

The 88 employees on leave for at least a year were across the department’s components, “suggesting systemic misuse of paid administrative leave,” Grassley said.

The senator cited a Government Accountability Office report with data on administrative leave at 100 agencies from 2011-2013. It found that 3 percent of federal employees were involved in administrative leave of at least one month, and the federal government spent a total of $3.1 billion on salaries for workers on paid administrative leave over that period. It spent $31 million just on employees who were paid not to work for at least one year. The most common reasons cited for leave were investigations into misconduct, physical fitness-related issues, and rest and recuperation for employees working overseas.

Grassley asked for answers by Nov. 2 on such questions as what actions the department had undertaken to strengthen administrative leave policy and what changes resulted.

“Each agency handles administrative leave on its own terms in the absence of clear guidance that should apply to everyone,” said Grassley, who is preparing legislation with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.  “The result is employees getting paid to stay home, sometimes for more than a year, while management keeps them in limbo. This is detrimental to taxpayers and good government. The agencies should account for each case of paid leave, especially those lasting more than a year.  The explanations will help Congress arrive at solutions to stop abusively long leave.”

(Image via Flickr user John Pemble/iprimages)