In 2015, employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs worked over 1 million hours for unions, despite being paid for that time by taxpayers, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Worse, a full 346 employees spent 100 percent of their time working for unions.
“While veterans are dying waiting for care, there are hundreds of employees at the VA who are spending their time working for big-government unions that fight any attempt to fix the VA,” Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), said in a statement.
The GAO report cited data from fiscal year 2015 showing that “employees spent approximately 1,057,000 hours on official time for union representational activities, and according to VA officials, unions represented almost 290,000 bargaining unit employees across the agency during this time.” Furthermore, “the data show that 346 employees spent 100 percent of their time on official time.” “Official time” means time spent doing union work on the taxpayers’ dime.
Worse, the report found that the VA “has no standardized way for facilities to record and calculate official time, which hampers its ability to accurately track the amount of official time used agency-wide.” So the 1 million hours? That’s a rough estimate — because the VA does not actually know how big the real number is.
The major reason for the uncertainty comes from the fact that the VA uses two different systems to measure employees’ time and attendance. The new system, the Veterans Affairs Time and Attendance System (VATAS) was launched in 2013 to replace the older system, the Enhanced Time and Attendance (ETA) system. The agency expects to complete the VATAS rollout by July 2018.
As the GAO reported, “VATAS provides specific codes for timekeepers to record the various uses of official time for union representational activities, but according to VA officials, ETA lacks such codes.” In other words, the 1 million hours is likely an underestimate of the time worked for unions.
Another reason for uncertainty comes from employees splitting their work time, according to the report. “For example, an employee at one selected facility served as union president 80 percent of the time and as a pharmacist for the remaining 20 percent. Managers said it is sometimes difficult to accommodate such employees’ use of official time because it may detract from these employees’ non-union responsibilities.”
Oh, now you tell us!! Working 80 percent of the time as a union president might — just maybe — detract from an employee’s work as a pharmacist. Those long wait lines don’t just create themselves…
All those horror stories about a veteran dying with maggots in his wound, about 25,000 vets being misdiagnosed with Traumatic brain Injury (TBI), about a VA dentist exposing 600 vets to HIV and Hepatitis, about veterans committing suicide after being forced to wait months for treatment — how many of them can be explained by VA employees doing union work on the taxpayers’ dime?
There are various bad factors involved at the VA. The case of Sharon Helman — former head of the VA in Phoenix, Ariz., who was one of the first people fired in 2014 but who nonetheless sued to get her job back — illustrates how difficult it is to terminate bad employees in the federal bureaucracy.
Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the man whose “New Deal” helped establish the modern federal bureaucracy, opposed public employee unions. “The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations,” Roosevelt wrote. “The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”
FDR warned that any negotiation with a public employee union would constitute a loss of the people’s authority. But the GAO report did not just find the prevalence of these unions at the VA, but that workers even spent 1 million hours working for them, at the expense of the taxpayer.
“There are virtually no accountability mechanisms in place for these employees, in part because VA unions are so intertwined with department leadership,” the CVA policy director Dan Caldwell explained. “For far too long, big-government unions have stood in the way of veterans getting quality care and helped to perpetuate the toxic culture at the VA.”
Caldwell condemned “this clear waste of taxpayer dollars at the hands of American veterans, who deserve much better than this.”
As of yet, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not released a press release responding to the GAO report. It has, however, published news releases on the ten women veterans whose artwork was chosen for display around the country in March, and the VA’s National Cemetery Administration’s ranking first in customer satisfaction among the nation’s top corporations and federal agencies. Bully for them!