Senate GOP presses federal workers’ paid time off for union work

Across the federal government, employees worked nearly 3.4 million hours in 2011 under the system, known as “official time,” which is a component of federal workers’ collective bargaining system.

“That’s equivalent to 1,600 employees not coming to work for a year,” he said.

The workers getting paid for official time cost the government more than $155 million that year.

Katharine Archuleta, Obama’s nominee to lead the federal worker management agency, said that agency heads need to make sure that the payment is used appropriately.

She told the panel “it is the responsibility of managers in the department to make sure that each of the individuals on official time are using that for the purposes that it was designated. I would encourage all agencies to be sure that that is exactly what is happening.”

Archuleta, who previously served as the national political director of President Obama’s 2012 campaign, said that the use of official time was beneficial when she was chief of staff at the Labor Department.

“It helped us to resolve issues, it helped us to anticipate issues,” she said. “That was a positive experience at the Department of Labor.”

The government has published public reports on the amount of official time used each year since 2002, though last year the OPM missed its release.

Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), the top Republican on the committee, asked Archuleta to commit to finding out what happened and release annual reports to the public.

She did not promise to release the yearly reports, but pledged to find out why they had stalled.

“As manager of OPM I will review where the status is of the report and I would inform myself of what is happening,” Archuleta said.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who said the system was “news to me,” evoked giggles in the hearing room when he incorrectly calculated the total percentage of people getting paid under the program to be 5 percent of all federal employees.

“Nevermind,” he said, when Coburn corrected him.

Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to eliminate or curtail the use of official time.