Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market/libertarian public policy organization in Washington, D.C.
When President Carter signed the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978, he said he did so to "promote the general welfare, contribute to the effective conduct of public business and to facilitate and encourage amicable settlements of labor-management disputes." He said nothing about creating dozens of jobs within government devoted solely to the conduct of union business. But that is precisely what has happened.
According to records obtained by Americans for Limited Government through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Department of Transportation had 35 employees who did nothing but union work in 2012, and the Environment Protection Agency had 17. All 52 made at least $72,000 per year, and 37 made more than $100,000.
And the problem is getting worse—so much worse, in fact, that the federal government doesn't even want to discuss it anymore. Two Republican congressmen—Reps. Phil Gingrey of Georgia and Dennis Ross of Florida—have inquired for years about the problem, only to be ignored by the Office of Personnel Management, which tracks use of union official time.
Finally, on January 19, the Office of Personnel Management released a report on use of official time in the federal workforce—in 2011. Still, the figures contained in "Labor-Management Relations: Reports On Official Time," which catalogues both the time spent performing union activities and the cost to taxpayers, are mind-boggling.
According to the report, federal employees spent 3.4 million hours on union activities in fiscal 2011, an increase of nearly 300,000 hours from 2010. That cost taxpayers $155 million in salaries and benefits, up $15 million from the 2010 report. The category "General Labor-Management Relations"—which Diana Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, defines as "not working for the taxpayer"—accounts for more than three fourths of that time.
The data paints a grim portrait of a federal workforce that continues to grow but also continues to spend ever-increasing amounts of time performing union business while being paid to perform the peoples' business. If President Obama and Congress want to identify relatively pain-free cuts to replace the across-the-board sequester cuts, they could do worse than to re-evaluate the Civil Service Reform Act in general and the use of union official time in particular.
In the law's "findings and purpose"—the explanation of the rationale for the legislation—Congress found legal protection for employees to organize a labor union and bargain collectively to be useful to promote the general welfare, contribute to the effective conduct of public business, and to facilitate and encourage amicable settlements of labor-management disputes. Indeed, union official time is described by the Office of Personnel Management as "a core component of the Federal Government's carefully crafted collective bargaining system."
In a statement released when he signed the legislation, President Carter said civil service reform and reorganization "would be the centerpiece of my efforts to bring efficiency and accountability to the federal government. It will be the key to better performance in all Federal agencies … It gives managers more flexibility and more authority to hire, motivate, reward and discipline employees to ensure that the public's work gets done."
But certainly not even President Carter intended the government to employ at least dozens—and probably hundreds and perhaps even thousands—of $100,000-plus-per-year employees to do nothing but union business. And certainly the government has realized this is a problem, or it wouldn't be so evasive about releasing information on use of official time.
If official time truly served the public interest, why is this? Why does it take Freedom of Information Act requests to reveal this information? Why is it not quantified and publicly disclosed? Why does the Office of Personnel Management ignore the requests of members of Congress and resist revealing this data in a timely fashion? And why has no agency or union ever attempted to quantify the direct public benefits that result from official time?