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April 8 2016

Livin' Large on Administrative Leave

Patrice J. Lee

Some American workers are unemployed by forces such as economic downturn and some by choice, but most don’t have the luxury of being paid their full salary while they relax at home.

A few workers do and, to no surprise, they are government employees who get to live large while on  paid administrative leave. We taxpayers are paying them to stay at home because of allegations of their misconduct or inability to perform their jobs are slow in being investigated. Presumably, we are also paying the person who is doing their work as well (unless of course we didn't really need to fill that position at all and nobody notices that they are gone!). The same work for twice the cost. What a deal!

Last year, we reported that federal agencies paid out $80.6 million in 2014 to workers on paid administrative leave. The latest report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that administrative leave is still being abused by managers who would rather put workers on leave than deal with their conduct issues. In some cases, it takes years to resolve the matter.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the biggest culprit in using paid admin leave. It may be that there are more cases of misconduct among DHS agents or that administrative leave is simply the department's tool of choice. Over the past five years, (from 2011-2015), 263 employees were placed on paid administrative leave for personnel matters for one year or longer at an estimated cost of $31 million. Some 71 of them were from DHS and the majority of these DHS cases involved allegations of misconduct. If you think one year is egregious try two or three years such as in these cases:

— A federal law enforcement officer was on leave for more than three years while being investigated on allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct. He was paid $455,000 in salary and benefits for not working.

— Another staffer, also on leave for more than three years, received about $340,000 while being investigated. After the lengthy inquiry, the agency determined it did not have sufficient evidence against the employee, who returned to duty.

— One employee was placed on administrative leave after exhibiting hostile behavior at work. The leave extended for more than 20 months because of a series of medical and psychiatric exams, requests for information and miscommunications regarding medical records. In March 2014, the employee was determined to be a threat to others and fired.

The abuse of paid administrative leave is so bad that President Obama has noticed and is stepping up efforts to reign it in. Both houses of Congress are working on measures to address administrative leave as well. The House bill  would prohibit placing federal employees on administrative leave for more than 14 total days for reasons relating to misconduct or performance. While Senate bill  would limit the leave to five consecutive days but would allow for investigative leave, without loss of pay, in other circumstances.

In all efforts to reform admin leave, it would be a good idea to carve out protection for whistleblowers. In some cases, vindictive managers misuse administrative when allegations are made.  

This report just reminds us though that reforming administrative leave addresses only one aspect of the problem. We have to consider the culture at an agency such as DHS which produces so many instances of misconduct. Being competent at a job is not the only factor in whether someone should be hired. A good work ethic can also be important in ensuring that someone gets the job done in the right way.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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