And the problem is growing worse annually, Coburn said, with a 45 percent increase in the reported number of hours absent without permission between 2001 and 2007 at the government agencies.
"No private company would put up with its employees refusing to show up for work, let alone watch the problem grow year after year," Coburn said, singling out the Veterans Affairs and Treasury department employees as among the worst offenders for unexcused absences.
But the private sector isn't setting a shining example either, according to surveys like one done annually by CCH Inc., a data and software provider in Riverwoods, Illinois. Two years ago, unscheduled absenteeism at U.S. firms hit its highest level since 1999, according to its survey, done with Harris Interactive; last year it dropped slightly.
In a separate survey for Careerbuilder.com, a job website, one in 10 workers said they played hooky three times or more a year simply because they did not feel like going to work.
So, can federal government workers be expected to be any better? Coburn, who serves on a Senate subcommittee on federal financial management, feels the situation at government agencies is particularly egregious because taxpayers foot the bill.
"AWOL employees put a hidden tax on the American taxpayer by making the federal government more inefficient with the resources it has been given," he said.
Needless to say, unions for the estimated 2.5 million federal workers weren't thrilled with accusation, arguing that Coburn, a major critic of government programs he views as too big or inefficient, is bashing the federal workforce with statistics that are incomplete and not comparable among agencies.
Some of Coburns' numbers are simply incredible, added Andrea Brooks, national vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees. If, as he says, the Veterans Administration had really lost 8 million hours of staff time, "that would have closed down all the hospitals," Brooks said.