Trump Is Cracking Down on Wasted Time and Money at the VA

COMMENTARY Budget and Spending

Trump Is Cracking Down on Wasted Time and Money at the VA

Nov 13th, 2018 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Rachel Greszler

Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements

Rachel researches and analyzes taxes, Social Security, disability insurance, and pensions to promote economic growth.
The Trump administration is preparing to bar VA employees from using "official time" to pursue non-work-related activities. Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/Newscom

Key Takeaways

430 medical professionals...instead of performing their duties as nurses or doctors, spend some or all of their time working for their federal employees unions.

"When we hire medical professionals to take care of veterans, that’s what they should do at all times. No excuses. No exceptions.”

Among those orders was a prohibition against federal employees spending more than 25 percent of their time performing official union activities.

Believe it or not, the Department of Veterans Affairs has 430 medical professionals who, instead of performing their duties as nurses or doctors, spend some or all of their time working for their federal employees unions.

All of that happens on the taxpayers’ dime.

Not anymore, according to the VA’s recent announcement.

As of Nov. 15, the VA will repudiate part of its master collective-bargaining agreement. In particular, it will eliminate all forms of taxpayer-funded “official time” for its roughly 104,000 Title 38 medical profession employees.

According to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, official time is that in which “an employee’s activities are not directed by the agency, but for which an employee is nevertheless entitled to compensation from the agency.”

In other words, official time refers to taxpayers paying federal employees to perform non-federal activities unrelated to the jobs they were hired to perform.

That means that hundreds of doctors and nurses at the VA receive their full federal salaries—averaging $74,000 a year for nurses and $187,000 for doctors, not including generous federal benefits—even if they don’t care for a single veteran.

As acting VA Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd said, “President [Donald] Trump has made it clear: VA employees should always put veterans first. And when we hire medical professionals to take care of veterans, that’s what they should do at all times. No excuses. No exceptions.”

Of course, that same argument should extend to the entire federal workforce. Federal employees should perform the duties they were hired to do—and nothing else.

While the administration does not have the power to prohibit official time for the rest of the federal workforce, or even all of the VA’s 380,000 employees, it can do so for the VA’s Title 38 medical professionals on the basis that official time negatively impacts patient care.

For anyone who would challenge that negative impact, it’s hard to imagine how having hundreds of medical professionals not taking care of veterans as they were hired to do could not negatively affect veterans’ care.

According to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report that examined official time at the VA, “a manager … interviewed said it can be especially challenging to find other staff to fill in for employees who are responsible for serving patients yet spend most of their work time on official time.”

Without a complete prohibition on all official-time activities at the VA and across the entire federal government, taxpayers will pay a heavy price—upward of $163 billion a year—for federal employees to perform union activities.

Trump has tried to curb these excessive costs and detrimental activities.

Under his authority to interpret and apply official-time policies that are “reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest” and “in a manner consistent with the requirements of an effective and efficient government,” Trump issued a series of executive orders including measures to curb inefficient and counterproductive official-time uses.

Among those orders was a prohibition against federal employees spending more than 25 percent of their time performing official union activities.

Provisions of the president’s executive orders were declared unlawful by U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, but based on the merits of the arguments and the president’s authority, the decision could be overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

In the meantime, at least our country’s veterans will have their health care partially insulated from the consequences of federal employees spending time working for their union instead of doing the jobs they were hired to perform.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal