Paid Handsomely for Ugly Behavior

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Oct 26, 2014 12:01 AM
Paid Handsomely for Ugly Behavior

What happens if you misbehave at work? Are you given a paid vacation? Awarded with additional funds for your lavish pension?

No? Oh, you poor thing. You must not work for the federal government.

The General Accounting Office — the very, very, extremely busy folks tasked to investigate all the myriad rip-offs perpetrated against taxpayers by folks in the federal government (so that hearings can be held, speeches written decrying the fraud and abuse, and nothing else what-so-ever done about it) — has issued a new report. Seems that federal workers accused of and often punished for bad behavior at work — from charging personal items on the government’s credit card to downloading porn on work computers — are regularly kept on paid leave while the charges against them are investigated.

Now, such personnel disputes do sometimes require some looking into. Let’s not fret about a few employees getting a few days of paid leave, while their bosses do whatever due diligence is necessary. And, of course, this process, regrettably but inevitably, must cost the taxpayers a few dollars.

Did I say “a few days”? Well, the GAO report found that in many cases over the last three years, the paid leave has in point of fact dragged on for a bit longer than that, for months, even years.

Likewise, it turns out to be more than merely a few employees; it’s thousands — tens of thousands. To be exact, it’s ever so roughly determined to be more than 57,000.

Yet, at least it’s only a few dollars — by Washington, D.C., standards, I mean. Anyway, what’s a few million dollars wasted, or actually the three-year tab is $775 million, among millions of taxpayers, eh?

Of course, that figure of $775 million only accounts for salaries paid to folks who are sitting at home and not working. It doesn’t include any calculation for the additional pension benefits, sick and vacation days accrued or time counted toward moving up the federal pay scale.

Now, rest assured, government rules covering such employment issues state quite clearly that paid leave is only to be used in “rare circumstances.” But, as is increasingly par for the course in our federal government, rules aren’t followed. Unless the meaning of “rare” has been changed to “common.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who along with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked for the GAO report, complained that, “Rather than disciplining employees who are under-performing or even engaging in criminal mischief, federal bureaucrats place troublesome employees on ‘administrative leave,’ where they continue to get paid but are essentially relieved of their duties, including having to report to work or do work.”

Many others within the federal Leviathan admitted that Sen. Coburn is on target.

“It became very clear to us that managers were putting people on administrative leave because it was the easiest thing to do,” said Robert Diegelman, author of the unheard of Justice Department policy limiting paid leave to 10 days, instituted back in 2002. “Too often it went on forever.”

Meanwhile, a Washington Post report on this controversy noted that, “At many private companies, paid leave is rarely used, if at all, and lasts a few days at most, personnel experts said. An employee accused of wrongdoing either stays at the office and is reassigned or is suspended without pay.”

That’s because private companies have to actually turn a profit and don’t have their hands permanently planted in the pockets of American taxpayers to cover the cost of ridiculously bad management practices.

Kathy Albarado, the CEO of Helios HR, a Northern Virginia consulting firm, points out that her clients cannot bill the government for the salaries of employees on paid leave, “So they’re motivated to ensure they’re resolving any dispute quickly.”

Still, a separate Washington Post story explained that, “Federal employees are generally entitled to more due process than their counterparts at private companies, which explains why the leave is paid.”

Should federal workers be so “entitled”? Are we all equal, but — as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm — some, i.e. government workers, are more equal than others?

Sen. Grassley is now reportedly working with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on a bill to more narrowly define when government employees can be placed on paid leave, limiting it to no more than a few days.

Don’t hold your breath, though. In our nation’s capital, reform has been on unpaid leave for quite some time.