A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that 263 federal workers have taken anywhere from one to three years of paid administrative leave between 2011 and 2013, and that taxpayers shelled out $31 million for all that paid time away from work.
The report also found that while 48 percent of federal workers took less than five days of paid leave from 2011 to 2013, 52 percent took six or more days of paid leave. GAO said 53,055 federal workers took one to three months of paid time off.
Taxpayers are paying millions for federal workers to take paid time off, and have paid $3.1 billion for all the time off taken from 2011 to 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
GAO also said the most common reason cited for all this time away from the office was because of personnel matters, such as investigations into misconduct or criminal matters.
"[T]he most commonly cited reason for large amounts of paid administrative leave was personnel matters, which was cited as a reason for paid administrative leave at all five of our selected agencies," GAO said. GAO surveyed the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Interior, as well as the General Services Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The GAO's report was requested by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who blasted its findings as proof that federal workers are too often getting a check for not working. Grassley said it also shows that the government doesn't move quickly enough to fire employees who engage in misconduct.
"These employees should be working for the taxpayers, not getting paid to stay home," Grassley said. "Paid leave is an excuse for managers not to manage and put off a decision on what to do with employees accused of misconduct or who blow the whistle or dispute a personnel action."
"The mentality seems to be out of sight, out of mind, and that's not the way to run the government or act responsibly with tax dollars," he said.
The issue of how and when to fire federal workers has come up several times in the last few years, particularly at the VA, where several senior officials played a role in the veterans health care scandal. But so far, the VA has indicated it does not support the firing of these officials, and instead has opted for drawn-out investigations and then giving employees the option of retirement.
According to GAO, the total salary cost of all paid leave from 2011 to 2013 was $3.1 billion. Most that cost came from people who took 20 days or less of paid time off in that three year period.
But $700 million worth of salaries were paid to workers to took at least one month of paid time off.