Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., says he supports the practice if it isn't overused.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., says he supports the practice if it isn't overused. Susan Walsh/AP

Republicans Defend Official Time but Say No One Should Use It Full Time

"We've been getting it wrong for far too long," lawmaker says.

Lawmakers expressed at a hearing Thursday bipartisan acceptance for the utility of federal union members conducting representational activity on the taxpayers’ dime, but Republicans drew the line at those who do no government work whatsoever.

Subcommittee leaders on the House Oversight and Veterans' Affairs panels promised reforms to the practice of official time, saying it is being used in excess to the detriment of government efficiency. Lawmakers called the joint hearing after a Government Accountability Office report found the Veterans Affairs Department maintains no agency-wide procedures for recording and tracking official time use. VA employees reported just more than 1 million hours on official time in fiscal 2015, though GAO called that data unreliable.

“I want to be clear about one thing,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the oversight committee’s panel on government operations. “Today’s hearing is not about whether federal employees should or should not participate in official time. We recognize, I recognize, the importance of that particular activity. Today’s hearing is really about what is reasonable and what is in the best interest of the taxpayers, who foot the bill for official time.”

Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, who heads the Economic Opportunity panel on the VA committee, recognized official time is lawful and said he did not want to “completely discredit” its use. He said, however, he was troubled by GAO’s findings and found it “insane” VA had not reached a solution to a longstanding problem.

“Are people taking advantage of this system? I think they are,” Arrington said. “I know we all agree VA should place needs of veterans above all else. I’m very concerned in the current environment this is not the case.”

Democrats and union representatives defended official time as necessary to protect whistleblowers, efficiently solve workplace disputes and as a means for the rank and file to communicate solutions to management.

“But for the work of these unions we would not be able to train appropriately, we would not be able to defend and protect whistleblowers, we would not be able to innovate,” said Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, the ranking member on Arrington’s subcommittee.

Arrington pushed J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, to concede allowing employees to work 100 percent on official time is not reasonable and necessary for the public interest. Cox defended those employees as conducting work that benefits the government, not the union. Kim McLeod, VA’s acting executive director of labor-management relations, said the department has worked at the national level to “put some limitations” on completely official time employees. She added she could not speak to negotiations that may be happening at the local level.

“I will defend your right to use official time,” Meadows said. “But I will not defend employees using it 100 percent of the time.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a congressman representing a large federal employee population and Meadows’ Democratic counterpart, said the committee was focusing on the wrong issue. GAO and VA have not uncovered any abuse of official time, Connolly noted, saying his colleagues should instead focus on President Trump’s hiring freeze.

Connolly presented his fellow committee members with the number of VA vacancies that would not get filled in each of their districts. VA has exempted a large swath of its workforce from the freeze, but McLeod noted some work conducted by the Veterans Benefits Administration “won’t get done so veterans won’t have those services.”

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., said employees on official time represented just one-five hundredth of total bargaining employee hours.

“It doesn’t really seem like a big daggone deal when we think about all the other challenges facing the VA,” Watson Coleman said.

Still, Meadows promised to reform the practice.

“We can’t afford to get this wrong,” he said. “And quite frankly, we’ve been getting it wrong for far too long.”

NEXT STORY: Planning for a Delayed Retirement

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.