The days of misbehaving federal employees earning paid vacation on our tab while they await disciplinary action are under attack.

This week, several members of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to better define the nebulous administrative leave policies for federal employees.

The Administrative Leave Act of 2016 does a number of things: It codifies the definition of administrative leave, separates it from other forms of paid leave or excused absences, and creates new categories of leave for extended excused absences due to personnel issues. The bill also gives agencies the flexibility to use investigative leave in the instance that an investigation is warranted and the employee needs to be out of the office. It adds a layer of reporting and accountability to employees by requiring that they are notified of why they are being placed on specific types of leave.

The legislative move follows a congressional report from last December that found 17 federal agencies spent more than $80 million putting employees on paid leave for a month or more.

And let’s not forget an infamous Thelma and Louise duo at the Department of Veterans Affairs who reportedly abused the agency’s relocation program to move other workers out of the jobs they wanted while retaining the salary that they were pulling down, which was far more than the new roles called for.

The contention is that paid administrative leave has been the hammer to every nail. It’s overused for those who engaged in egregious misconduct or gross mismanagement of public resources and were awaiting disciplinary action. Being on paid leave is far from “discipline” when you consider that these workers are simply staying at home and getting a guaranteed salary. In fact, it frees them up to moonlight in other jobs.

Of course, there are those who were put on administrative leave for doing the right thing, which complicates matters. Managers wield admin leave as a tool of retaliation against whistleblowers, but this bill grants protections for them.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley released a statement on the bill:

“There’s a Wild West environment among agencies on paid administrative leave,” said Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  “Some agencies use it too much, and the taxpayers get short-changed.  The statutory and regulatory vacuum on the use of paid leave has contributed to this problem.  Congress is stepping in with legislation to fill the void.  Our bill puts strict limits on administrative leave.  It makes clear when other forms of paid leave are allowable and when employees should be on the job instead.  Paid leave shouldn’t be a crutch for management to avoid making tough personnel decisions or a club for wrongdoers to use against whistleblowers.”
“Paying government employees to stay at home not only robs taxpayers of millions of dollars each year, it allows agencies to drag their feet in taking disciplinary action,” said Johnson, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “The Department of Homeland Security is one of the worst offenders, leaving some employees on paid leave for one, two, even three years. This bill forces government agencies to complete timely investigations and make fair decisions, and it mandates real accountability and transparency to Congress. I am pleased that after months of hard work, we have a bipartisan, commonsense product that will save American taxpayers millions of dollars every year.”
“It’s important for federal agencies, employees, and taxpayers to have clarity on what paid administrative leave can and should be used for,” said Carper, ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  “The current catch-all use of this term creates ambiguity that has led to misuse and abuse…”

Outside groups are endorsing the bill, including Senior Executives Association, the Federal Managers Association, and the National Border Patrol Council, which is part of the American Federation of Government Employees:

“Currently, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection routinely places Border Patrol Agents on extended administrative leave without justification of length, forcing our agents to languish with no avenue of recourse,” said Brandon Judd, President of the National Border Patrol Council. “NBPC supports codifying the definition of administrative leave in hopes that it will curb the overuse of extended administrative leave policies by federal agencies.  We appreciate Senators Tester and Grassley for their leadership protecting the rights of federal employees and look forward to continuing to work to find a solution.” 

In the private sector, when someone is performing poorly or caught in misconduct, employers move fast to get them off the staff quickly.  

Not so for government where it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than to fire a worker. For government employees, there is no fear that actions will warrant job loss. At best,  you’ll get some extra paid vacation time while you await your slap on the wrist. This legislation looks like a first step to changing that.