Official time is worker protection against discrimination and unlawful disciplinary actions, but some in Congress are working to undermine it. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) complete a report on how worker protection time is used and how much it costs. Their goal is to weaken worker protections and the unions that provide those protections. However, the GAO started out the newly released report quoting a 1978 law that reflects “a congressional finding that federal unions are in the public interest and contribute to effectively conducting public business.”
Employees who are union officials use official time to negotiate with management for better working conditions, represent their co-workers through grievances, and help solve disputes before they escalate and turn into expensive lawsuits against the government. The GAO acknowledges the many benefits of official time, as quoted in the report by both management and employees.
The GAO report also shows that even accountants don’t always agree on the best way to keep track of data. GAO criticizes OPM’s accounting procedures, but never suggests that OPM “misstates” or “misrepresents” official time data. Since both GAO and OPM are producing only estimates, neither can be described as wrong or misleading. The gold standard for accounting is whether data are presented fairly and in such a way that a reasonable person can rely on them. Any reasonable person can rely on either OPM’s data or GAO’s data. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and both are good faith efforts to present an accurate report.