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Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James recently sent a report to Congress showing a 4 percent decrease in the total number of hours federal employees serving as labor officials used during the workday in fiscal 2003 to conduct union business on behalf of agency workers they represent.
The decline in the total number of hours used by federal employees who double as union officials was accompanied by a 2.9 percent reduction in the number of "official time" hours used per bargaining unit employee.
The decreases represent a significant achievement in the area of taxpayer accountability, as James voiced concerns over fiscal 2002 data that showed an aggregate 10 percent rise between 1998 and 2002 in the use of official time in federal agencies. In a memorandum following the release of the FY02 data, James informed agency heads of the need for OPM to strengthen reporting requirements, which included expanding the scope of data to be reported, beginning in 2004.
"I fully support the right of federal employees to use official time to represent unions and bargaining unit employees," said James in a memo (attached) to agency heads that accompanied the FY03 official-time results. "At the same time, the right to official time carries with it a responsibility on the part of both labor and management to see that the time is used appropriately and efficiently. I believe the annual official time surveys and OPM's reports on their findings, as well as related official-time studies and activities we have initiated, work to support greater accountability to the taxpayer in this important area of labor-management relations."
Official time, in government nomenclature, is defined as "authorized, paid time-off from assigned government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees." Official time was authorized by Congress in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to allow employees the opportunity to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, participate in impasse proceedings or labor-management activities deemed "reasonable, necessary and in the public interest."
While supporting the use of official time to conduct legitimate labor-management business, James has imposed new reporting requirements to increase transparency for managers and taxpayers. The new requirements cover the period October 1, 2003, through September 30, 2004, and will be maintained for subsequent fiscal year reporting periods.
Under the new reporting requirements, the use of official time must be grouped into four categories based on whether the time was used to:
o prepare and negotiate a basic collective bargaining agreement o bargain over issues raised during the life of an agreemento represent bargaining unit employees in dispute resolution procedureso attend meetings between labor and management officials, or for labor relations training and participation in formal meetings and investigative interviews
In 2003, James informed agency heads that OPM's e-Payroll initiative will include governmentwide time and attendance reporting systems and require agencies to track the use of official time. She said this would give a more accurate accounting of the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
"There must be a balancing act between the performance of duties for the American public and ensuring the legitimate workplace interests of federal employees," said James. "
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