OCTOBER 23, 2015
Dozens of employees at the gigantic agency created after 9/11 to prevent another terrorist attack have been on “paid administrative leave” for more than a year, many of them for as long as two and three years.
It’s part of a pervasive problem among the nation’s federal government agencies, where it’s a common practice to let employees collect their taxpayer-funded checks during investigations for wrongdoing and a series of other personal issues. Sometimes internal probes drag on with seemingly no end in sight, but that doesn’t stop the compensation for those sitting at home. Paid administrative leave is supposed to be reserved for rare circumstances in which employees may pose a threat to themselves or others, result in loss of or damage to government property or otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests.
The reality is much different and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a recent example though there are countless others across the government. DHS spent about $1.8 million last year to keep 88 employees on paid leave and many of them have been collecting their government pay without working for longer stretches. Four DHS employees were on paid administrative leave for three years or more and 17 for two years or more. Of the 88, 53 face misconduct charges, 13 have security clearance problems and DHS had questions about the fitness for duty of 22. The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, made the figures public this week and is demanding answers. Government employees getting paid to stay home, sometimes for more than a year, is detrimental to taxpayers and good government, Grassley says. This week the senator fired off a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson with a detailed list of questions involving the circumstances surrounding the paid leave of his 88 employees.
This is part of a broader and quite serious issue among government agencies. In fact, last year a federal audit revealed that the U.S. spent an eye-popping $3.1 billion during a three-year period on salaries for government employees on paid administrative leave. At least 57,000 workers were on paid administrative leave during the period analyzed and around 4,000 stayed home with full salary for three months to a year, according to the probe which was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The scary part is that this particular audit only considered five agencies so the GAO’s report only features a snippet of the true problem.
Here are some of the reasons that the five investigated agencies—the departments of Defense, Interior, Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development—granted administrative paid leave; investigations for alleged misconduct, security threats, criminal conduct or adverse actions, donating blood, dismissals due to hazardous weather or emergency conditions, physical examinations to determine fitness for duty and voting. Attending conferences, conventions or meetings and performing tasks necessary for change of duty station are also covered under administrative paid leave.
Besides the typical incompetence of a bloated government, part of the problem is that there is no uniform policy for paid leave and instead each agency just makes their own. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency that manages the government’s civil service, is evidently trying to correct this by implementing a government-wide policy. Earlier this year OPM Director Katherine Archuleta sent agency heads a memo to inform them that OPM will begin collecting information from payroll providers to initiate the collaboration process, presumably to crack down on paid administrative leave.
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