Yesterday we learned that "accountability" at the disastrous Department of Veterans Affairs means top executives get to pop their golden parachutes and "retire" before they could be fired for even the most obnoxious malfeasance. Today, courtesy of the GAO and Fox News, let's take a look at Big Government's favorite tool of "accountability" for just about every agency, paid administrative leave. Only statists could concoct a "punishment" that hurts the victims - taxpayers - more than the miscreant:
Thousands of federal workers who have been put on administrative leave for more than a month have been allowed to collect a paycheck, and accrue vacation days and pension benefits, while taxpayers were forced to foot the multi-million-dollar bill, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
Some government employees who broke the rules ??? meaning they were cited for being untrustworthy or had ongoing issues with co-workers or their bosses - were allowed to remain on leave for large chunks of time while they challenged their demotions, the 62-page report said.
The study, released publicly on Monday, marks the first time auditors have taken a look at the scope of administrative leave and its cost to taxpayers.
During a three-year period, more than 57,000 employees were told to go home ??? and stay home - for 30 days or more, costing taxpayers $775 million in salary alone. The report found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months. Another 4,000 were kept off the job for three months to a year and hundreds more for one to three years.
Not all of this paid leave was punitive in nature; the report mentions scenarios "including blood donations and snow days." Anyone who has observed Washington D.C. come to a grinding halt under the kind of white powdery dusting normally found atop the pastries on a Thanksgiving dinner table should find snow days a plausible excuse for a couple hundred million in paid leave. Show of hands: how many people in the private sector get paid leave for blood donations, beyond the time it takes to tap a vein and guzzle some orange juice in the bloodmobile?
Republican Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Tom Coburn, R-Okla, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., requested the GAO report. Grassley, along with Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, have been working together on legislation that would define which employees would be allowed to stay home, reasons paid leave would be granted and the duration.
The number of federal employees put on paid leave typically eclipses the number at private companies. Private companies will rarely pay employees while investigating claims and in the cases where they do, the leave lasts for only a few days.
???The private sector is focused on operating efficiently,??? Kathy Albarado, chief executive of Helios HR, a consulting firm located in Northern Virginia, told The Washington Post in an interview.
Jeffrey Neal, a federal personnel manager who retired in 2011 as the Department of Homeland Security???s human capital chief, told the paper, ???Unless you think somebody is going to get a gun and shoot people, then send them to work.???
And if you do think they're going to get a gun and shoot people, the answer is to give them paid administrative leave? Suddenly time off for blood donations doesn't look so unreasonable. The Washington Post clarifies what Neal was talking about, in a passage that makes it clear Big Government has known it has big problems with paid leave for a long time, but can't seem to rouse itself to do much of anything about it:
The extensive use of administrative leave continues despite government personnel rules that limit paid leave for employees facing discipline to ???rare circumstances??? in which the employee is considered a threat. The long-standing rules were written in an effort to curb waste and deal quickly with workers accused of misconduct.
And the comptroller general, the top federal official responsible for auditing government finances and practices, has repeatedly ruled that federal workers should not be sidelined for long periods for any reason.
And yet, sidelined they were, soaking up not only $775 million in salary but also building pensions, accumulating sick days, and advancing on the federal pay scale, as the WaPo observes. I don't believe any of my employers in the private sector have ever considered me a threat, but if they did, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have dealt with the threat by telling me to take a couple of years off with pay and chill out. Some of the legitimate reasons for granting leave are widely abused , dragging paid leave into months and years instead of a few days. And even that's not the worst of it, because the numbers cited by GAO "account for only about three-fifths of the federal workforce, since not all government agencies keep track of the practice."
Two-fifths of our $3.5 trillion deficit-fueled super-government doesn't even bother to keep track of how many hours they pay people to sit home and do nothing? Golly, that sure sounds like a prime opportunity for reform to me. But what do I know? I'm just one of the chumps who pays for all this.
There are interesting lessons to be learned from this disaster about the true cost of labor. Most workers probably don't think about it, but the value of their vacation and sick time, plus miscellaneous personal days off, is a real cost that must be borne by their employers, above and beyond gross payroll. As executive Kathy Albarado noted in the Fox News piece, the private sector is well aware of these costs, and keeps them under control, with an eye toward the bottom line. Big Government has no bottom line - that's what trillion-dollar deficits mean - so it doesn't give a crap about how much money is frittered away on endless paid leave, with excuses ranging from absurd to outrageous.
As for the "outrageous" part, House and Senate reform packages should stamp out the use of paid leave as a tool for faking accountability, as was done for the likes of IRS scandal figure Lois Lerner. Sending someone on a paid vacation is not a punishment. Good luck to Rep. Issa and Senators Grassley and Coburn in getting all of this straightened out. By the way, how come only Republicans seem to care about this sort of thing?