Senate Investigation Documents Agencies’ Use, Abuse of Paid Administrative Leave
To Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley (R), agency use of paid administrative leave looks like “a Wild West environment.”
The Senator made that remark following an investigation by his staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, into responses from 18 agencies into an oversight investigation that began last year.
Senator Grassley, along with then-Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), and then-House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) look into how agencies were using their broad administrative leave authority.
The GAO report found that in a small subset of cases, 263 feds were kept on paid administrative leave for a period of one to three years at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $31 million.
Since the issuance of the GAO report, the Senator has continued his oversight by asking agencies about their administrative leave policies and details about employees on long term leave.
“Every agency uses this leave differently. Some agencies use it too extensively, and the taxpayers get short-changed. The statutory and regulatory vacuum on the use of paid leave has contributed to this problem,” the Senator stated upon release of the investigative report.
Seventeen agencies were found to have spent nearly $81 million on employees who were on paid administrative leave for over a month in fiscal year 2014 – a figure that could be higher due to imprecise data and calculations provided by agencies.
The report notes that agencies often provided little to no reason why employees were kept on paid administrative leave for such lengthy periods of time, and that in some cases whistleblowers were put on leave as a form of retaliation by their supervisors. In those situations, because no personnel action has been taken, employees have little recourse to appeal their administrative leave status.
“Agencies are able to place an employee on administrative leave simply to avoid addressing an uncomfortable—or potentially even unjustifiable—personnel action. Maintaining this status quo serves neither the taxpayer nor the employee. Its costs are high, and its benefits dubious. Under current practice, employees who did commit misconduct can avoid accountability on a taxpayer-funded vacation, but employees unjustly accused are deprived of professional development and, more importantly, legal recourse, because employees in administrative leave status have no right to appeal its use,” the report concluded.
It recommends statutory changes to: authorize and define administrative leave in statute; encourage agencies to use options other than paid administrative leave; limit paid administrative leave to specific purposes and short-term duration; provide safeguards against the retaliatory use of administrative leave; preserve non-duty pay status as authorized by law and in the interests of the agency; ensure tracking and recording of administrative leave; and continue and strengthen congressional oversight over administrative leave.
The Senator noted that he has been working on bipartisan legislation with Senator Tester (D-MT), aided by workforce stakeholders such as the Senior Executives Association (SEA) and other federal employee groups, which should be introduced soon.
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