12.06.2018 0

Official time transparency should be made mandatory by Congress after Trump administration voluntary disclosures

By Natalia Castro

Union employees are often also federal employees, but instead of working for the government, they use taxpayer funded time to fuel their union agenda, often making in excess of $100,000 a year. This agenda is often partisan and does more to hurt federal employees than protect them. President Trump took significant steps earlier this year to mitigate union member’s ability to waste taxpayer funds on official time, but more must be done by Congress to make this a reality.

One of the largest problems with eliminating official time is a lack of transparency with the American people that usually allows unions to operate against the American people right under their noses.

To get at the issue, in 2012, Americans for Limited Government filed a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to departments and agencies across the federal government, revealing that $156 million was spent in FY 2011 on union official time work. That is employees who did no federal work at all, but were full-time union operatives fully funded by taxpayers.

By 2016, that number had jumped up to $177 million, according to Office of Personnel Management, which released the data after a series of executive orders by President Donald Trump to ensure more transparency.

Last year the House passed H.R. 1293 by a voice vote. This bill would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to release data outlining exactly where official time is being used in an annual report to Congress.

Then nobody will have to do FOIA requests every year or depend upon the administration voluntarily releasing the information to find out how much was wasted on union official time at the federal government.

H.R. 1293 builds upon the actions President Trump took in his May 2018 executive orders, which requires this transparency of data beginning in 2020. Unfortunately, these executive orders have already faced strong legal battles as Democrats, whom unions heavily fund, have fought against the issue. Also, as with all executive orders, another president can simply remove this requirement for transparency and push the American people back into the dark regarding how their taxpayer funds are spent.

The Senate must pass H.R. 1293 in the lame duck session to ensure every administration values a transparent and accountable civil service. One thing’s for sure, Nancy Pelosi won’t be working on the issue again next year. So, it’s now or never.

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning explained in a letter written to the OPM, “At Americans for Limited Government, we have been concerned with the amount of official time granted to union officials, and it has been difficult to obtain data on this issue. Accordingly, we were pleased to that the House unanimously passed H.R. 1293, which required the publishing of an annual report to Congress on the use of official time. We were also pleased with President Trump’s Executive Order 13837 directing the publishing of official time data for FY 2019 by June 30, 2020. Due to the importance of the issue, we are requesting that this deadline be moved up and that OPM issue a report on official time usage for FY 2018.”

The reality is, OPM has this data and can release it at any time. It’s not hard for them to do, they’ve done it before. What we know already shows how pervasive and excessive the use of official time is — and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be mandatory.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor and policy analyst at Americans for Limited Government.

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