If you work for the federal government, it pays to be bad – literally. Hundreds of millions taxpayer dollars are being wasted to pay federal workers to stay at home while they await investigations and punishments for their wrong-doing.

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, over a three-year period that ended last fall, more than 57,000 federal workers were sent home with pay for a month or longer at a cost to taxpayers of more than $775 million in salaries alone – not including other benefits. They also built up vacation and sick time, added to their pensions and even moved up the federal pay scale.

Some 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months, about 4,000 twiddle their thumbs at home for three months to a year, and several hundred for one to three years. The Defense Department for example, put 8,600 employees on leave for one to three months, nearly 900 for three months to a year, and 123 for more than a year.

In some instances, the federal employees were being investigated for wrong-doing such as pornography on their computers or insubordination. In others, they may have been whistleblowers calling out bad behavior on the part of others. Whatever the case, managers have great discretion in using administrative leave and aren't expeditious in keeping that term short.

Rules require that federal workers should not be sidelined for long periods of time for any reason, but unlike the private sector that operates on efficiency and nimbleness, the federal government operates at a sloth’s pace with little care of stewardship over the taxpayers’ resources under their care. While financially beneficial it's not fair to the employs either who are in limbo, but I'm guessing the steady paychecks and benefits soften that hardship.

The Washington Post reports:

Auditors found that supervisors used wide discretion in putting employees on leave, including for alleged violations of ­government rules and laws, whistleblowing, doubts about trust­worthiness, and disputes with colleagues or bosses. Some employees remain on paid leave while they challenge demotions and other punishments.

While the employees stayed home, they not only collected paychecks but also built their pensions, vacation and sick days and moved up the federal pay scale.

The GAO report almost certainly understates the extent and cost of administrative leave because the figures examined by the auditors were incomplete. The numbers reviewed account for only about three-fifths of the federal workforce since not all government agencies keep track of the practice.

[Sen. Charles] Grassley, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requested the GAO report. Grassley is working with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on legislation that would narrowly define the circumstances in which employees can be kept home. Pay would be limited to a few days, congressional aides said.

There is no law addressing administrative leave. Brenda Roberts, OPM deputy associate director for pay and leave, said agencies have used their own discretion in putting workers on paid leave.

The OPM has at times given guidance to managers across government on how it should be used, she said, adding that “we’ve always stated it’s for brief periods of time.”

Spokesmen for several agencies, when asked why they sidelined hundreds or thousands of employees for long periods, said they rely on the OPM for guidance.

It’s infuriating that the millions of us hardworking Americans are subsidizing the paid vacation of federal employees who are accused of wrong-doing. It’s like paying for the medical bills of the robber who broke into your house and cut his hand in the process.

There is no urgency with dealing with these  federal workers and that’s a problem.

In the private sector, disruptive workers are identified and eliminated quickly so as not to hurt team morale, productivity, and the bottom line. Bad apples are often chucked from the bunch as quickly as possible so as not to infect the rest bushel. If investigations are needed or cases adjudicated, they are done quickly to minimize the cost to the company. Perhaps, if federal agencies weren’t guaranteed a steady stream of revenue regardless of output, they would feel greater urgency to deal with workers put on leave.

There is a two part problem here to be addressed: expediting cases and limiting administrative leave. Addressing the former may take care of much of the latter but there is nothing wrong with still limiting admin leave to a defined number of days.

At least a few members of Congress want to take this on legislatively. However, if this GAO report is only a partial picture of the overall abuse of paid leave, it may be an uphill battle.