Exclusive: Cash for Slackers, Part II

Second of a Three-Part Series

It’s been a point of controversy that federal workers are working full time not on the job taxpayers pay them to do, but on union business.

However, a probe into government labor fights at the Federal Labor Relations Authority FLRA) reveal another secret taxpayers know little about, the tip of a new trend—the great lengths federal unions go to win fights that let government employees work on just union business from home, all at taxpayer expense.

For example, not only was Janice Perry allowed to work on union issues 100% of the time at her job at Veterans Affairs, she didn’t even want to occasionally show up at work, writes Patrick Pizzella, one of the three federal officials adjudicating federal union fights at the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

Perry, an AFL-CIO president, has been working on union duties full-time while at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. After she broke her ankle, Perry demanded she be allowed to work from home, solely on union duties, five days a week, every week.

The VA then offered her the option to work three days each week from home, still solely on union duties.

Unhappy with that offer, Perry then slapped the VA with a case at the FLRA in 2012. Perry claimed she was being discriminated against for “engaging in protected activity,” meaning, working full-time on union issues at her VA job. Perry demanded she instead be allowed to “telework,” or work full-time from home, solely on union issues, with taxpayer-funded pay and benefits.

Perry, with the help of her union, won. The federal labor review board approved Perry’s request in May of last year. The ruling turned “on whether the VA acted reasonably” when it asked the union official to come to work two days a week.

Perry’s story is part of a growing trend in federal teleworking, encouraged by the Obama Administration. An estimated 29% of federal employees now telework at some point during the year. Nearly one out of seven federal staffers now work from home at least one day a week. 

President Barack Obama helped hasten the trend with a presidential memorandum in June 2014 directing federal agencies to notify their workers about their “right” to request flexible work schedules, including teleworking from home.

Even though federal workers are found to be fraudulently misreporting their time and attendance anyway.

For example, the Commerce Dept.’s inspector general found last year that 19 paralegal specialists were given so little work at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), that taxpayers paid them more than $5 million over a four-year period to spend their work days at home, doing personal chores, shopping online, watching T.V., surfing the Internet or on Facebook, or doing the laundry or the dishes.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial, pervasive waste” at the Patent office “that endured for more than four years and resulted in the misuse of federal resources totaling at least $5.09 million,” the inspector general said, adding, “many were frequently paid to do nothing, despite the fact that [the Patent Office’s] backlog was growing rapidly at the same time.” This is the same federal office that nixed the Washington Redskins’ trademark.

“I’m tired of hearing about this,” Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “In the private sector, these people wouldn’t be employed long. And to add insult to injury, they’ll get put on administrative leave. It’s a perfect example of how government has grown, and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.” The solution, Marino has said, is to cut government by 50% across the board.

But a federal union said it has been working to “set the record straight” on telework abuse the IG report revealed. “Any organization as big as the USPTO (12,000+ employees), whether in the public or private sector, will have a small number of employees who run into difficulties of one sort or another,” Robert Budens, president of the Patent Office Professional Association, wrote in a letter to his members.

Meanwhile, taxpayers paid an estimated $157.2 million for federal workers spending 3.44 million hours working full-time for unions and not the jobs taxpayers hired them to do, at places like the Defense Dept., the IRS and the VA, as of fiscal 2012, the latest data available, says the Office of Personnel Management. Additionally, the Government Accountability Office says that dollar figure is underestimated by an average 9%.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) has introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act (H.R. 1658) to stop federal employees from working on union business during their official government work time.

Noting the VA as just one example, Rep. Hice said in a statement: “At a time when the need for veterans’ healthcare is at an all-time high, and resources at an all-time low, there shouldn’t be over 200 employees of the VA solely dedicated to promoting union activities, not when our veterans are waiting in line to be helped, and at the very least, not on my watch.”

Next: Government union wins fight to let Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration Enforcement workers use personal email accounts on the job that are potentially loaded with malware.