OPM Reports 4 Percent Increase in Use of Official Time Over Two Years

The Office of Personnel Management released a report Thursday on the use of official time at federal agencies in fiscal 2016, stating that the amount of paid time used by union officials for representational duties had increased by 4.12 percent since fiscal 2014.

In a press release accompanying the report, OPM officials assailed the practice, in which federal employees are compensated for their work on behalf of the union for representational matters, calling it “taxpayer funded union time” that does not serve the public interest.

“In other words, official time is treated as work time, thus is funded by the American taxpayers while no service to the taxpayer is performed,” OPM wrote.

The report found that in fiscal 2016, union employees… [for more, click here]

Do you agree with OPM officials that ” official time is treated as work time, thus is funded by the American taxpayers while no service to the taxpayer is performed”? Why or why not? Use examples from your agency to support your opinion.

$174,789,810 for Official Time in FY 2016

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued its latest report on “official time.” Official time is a term used to describe time spent by federal employee union representatives who receive their government salary and benefits while performing duties as a union official.

According to a press release from OPM: “Official time, more accurately referred to as ‘Taxpayer Funded Union Time’ is paid time spent by Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. In other words, official time is treated as work time, thus is funded by the American taxpayers while no service to the taxpayer is performed.

According to the OPM report, the cost for this use of paid leave by federal employees acting on behalf of a union increased by 7.55 percent from Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 to FY 2016. The cost increased from… [for more, click here].

What of the information in this article surprised you? What confirmed any previous assumptions? How does this information apply to your agency?

Union Official Time: Why a Basic Change is Needed

In this article, the author, a former federal agency labor and employee relations director, currently working with and training federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels, discusses the use of official time in federal labor relations. He focuses on the key question:

  • Did the Congress of the United States intend to eliminate any labor dollar cost of negotiations to an employee union and place the entire cost of the time spent by union employee representatives on the American taxpayer?

and addresses five problems with the way administrative bodies such as the FLRA and EEOC have interpreted federal labor relations law.

To read this article, click here.

Which of the five problems and discussion did you agree with? Didn’t agree with? Do you have other questions? What are they?

Managers Can Fire Bad Feds, They Just Don’t

Federal managers could easily fire most poor performing employees early in their career, they just don’t. They also could quickly remove new supervisors from positions for which they turn out to be ill suited and return them to the non-supervisory roles at which they excelled. But they rarely do. That’s according to research compiled by the Merit Service Protection Board and released Tuesday.

In “Adverse Actions: The Rules and the Reality,” MSPB aims to give federal managers a guide to better managing the workforce by more quickly shedding poor performers.

For starters, new employees and new supervisors almost always serve in a probationary capacity for one or two years. During that time, they can be fired with no advance notice and very limited or no right of appeal, depending on the position.  (For more, click here.)

Do hiring managers at your agency use the probationary period as intended? What situations have you seen where proper use of probation would have eliminated a performance or disciplinary problem before it mushroomed?


OPM’s Guidance on Firing Bad Employees Will Remind You That It’s Complicated

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday reminded federal managers that they have several tools at their disposal to discipline poor performers or employees engaged in misconduct.

OPM released 22-page guidance — not intended to be “comprehensive” — outlining the various disciplinary procedures for Title 5 employees, depending on whether the issue is performance-related, or a result of misconduct. The guidance walks agencies through the proper steps, including notification and documentation, required for suspending, reassigning, demoting and firing employees and members of the Senior Executive Service.

“Maximizing employee performance and addressing misconduct, when appropriate, is a critical responsibility of managers and supervisors,” wrote acting OPM Director Beth Cobert in an accompanying memorandum. “If the available management tools are used appropriately and when needed, managers and supervisors have an opportunity to deter future performance or misconduct challenges, and employees have an opportunity to improve their performance or correct their behavior, all of which will benefit the agency.”

The OPM guidance, as government documents go, is pretty informative and jargon-free. But the guidance, which outlines an extensive process for many disciplinary actions, also is a … (For more, click here.)

Have you ever been involved in having to deal with misconduct or poor performance? What tips would you have for others having to do the same?

Beware Attempting to Fix a Difficult Employee

New(er) managers often step all over this issue of fixing people. I know I did. Twice. Both situations ended in disasters. The lesson: it’s never your job to fix a difficult employee.

It turns out that regardless of your great intentions, powers of moral suasion, and investment in time, sweat, and tears, you cannot fix a person. The individual in question has to want to change. You can set the stage and provide the opportunities, but you have a lot less influence on this situation than you might think. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with what the author says he should have done in the case he describes? Do you agree with his statement that “You are not in the business of fixing people. You are accountable for driving results.”?

3 Ideas for Dealing with Problem Employees

Three recent publications raised the issue of dealing with problem employees. The Office of Personnel Management released the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, highlighting the perception among employees that their agencies do not do enough to deal with problem employees.  The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report, Tables of Penalties: Examining Sexual Misconduct in the Federal Workplace and Lax Federal Responses, that addressed inconsistencies in and among agencies on dealing with problem employees, in general and specifically on the issue of sexual misconduct. The Merit System Protection Board released a study on performance management, Building Blocks for Effective Performance Managementthat focused on the relationship between the agency’s “Agency Performance Management Environment” and employee performance and the ability to deal with poor performers. The MSPB report made the news because of a singe sentence that said having a small number of employees removed for poor performance could be a good sign. That statement was not the point of the report.

The three reports addressed the government’s ability to deal with problem employees, but from different perspectives. The OPM FEVS report simply reported the data. In one of many questions, it showed that employees generally do not believe their agencies do enough to deal with problem employees. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with the author’s 3 ideas? Which do you think would be most helpful at the agencies you have worked for?



What’s Next for Federal Unions?

It is safe to say that unions have become a more partisan issue. Democrats generally like them, Republicans generally do not. It is likely we will see some changes that affect both the representational aspects of labor relations and the institutional issues that affect the unions themselves.

 The institutional issues relate to how unions get the resources they need to effectively represent employees. The two biggest factors are official time and dues withholding. In recent years there have been proposals that would eliminate the ability of employees to sign a dues withholding form to have dues taken from their pay. The alternative would be to use allotments or to have people pay the unions directly. There are a lot of reasons why proponents think it is a good idea, but the bottom line is it would make it harder for unions to get money.

The second institutional issue is also a representational issue – official time. Official time is the time union stewards and other officials use for representational issues. It is time on the clock and the taxpayers foot the bill. OPM reports the cost at more than $150 million per year. Because official time is typically under-reported, the actual cost is likely higher than that. (For more, click here.)

Do you agree with the approach recommended by the author would “work for the agencies, work for the employees, and work for the taxpayers”? Why or why not?

Fixing Federal Labor Relations: Office Time May Not be the Biggest Problem

The Incoming Trump administration says it will address the widespread abuses in official time by Federal labor unions. House and Senate Republicans have long said that Uncle Sam should not be completely subsidizing employee unions as is the current case.

 Agency representatives would agree that limiting or eliminating official time for employee representatives would be a step in the right direction, but that at least four other issues in the current labor relations system are of equal or greater importance in making government work at all, much less more efficiently and effectively. (For more, click here.)
Do you agree with the author that the four issues listed in this article are a significant hindrance to making the government work more efficiently and effectively? What would you add to or subtract from the list?

Fixing Federal Labor Relations: A Statutory Markup for Change

For 43 years, I’ve represented Federal Agencies in unit determination, negotiability, unfair labor practice, arbitration, mediation, impasse cases and at the bargaining table for both term and I&I frequently as a chief negotiator. I still bargain and am involved in cases as an advisor.

 I like to think Albert Einstein was right when he said, “the only source of knowledge is experience”. Well, I’ve experienced way too much of the labor statute and the many problems it has created for Agencies attempting to deal with it. The statute says, “the provisions of this chapter should be interpreted in a manner consistent with the requirement of an effective and efficient Government.”
The last and other Federal Labor Relations Authorities (FLRA) in their expansionist philosophy have done everything but … (For more, click here.)
Which of the changes to 5 USC 7103-7134 suggested by the author do you believe would help support efficient and effective government? Why?