Coburn: Fire federal employees who are ‘paid to do nothing’

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Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, says that federal employees who don’t do their jobs should be laid off before critical employees like food inspectors and air traffic controllers are furloughed due to sequestration.

In the most recent installment of his letter writing campaign to government agencies offering suggestions for managing the sequester, Coburn pointed out the man-hours the government loses to employees who do not show up to work, who are paid to perform work unrelated to their agency’s mission, who are paid while on “stand by,” and those who are not working at all.

“Targeting these four areas where federal employees are being paid to do nothing could result in billions of dollars in annual savings, enough to maintain those employees performing the truly essential missions of the federal government,” Coburn said in a statement.

In a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on Wednesday, Coburn cited a report he released in 2008, which showed that that between 2001 and 2007 the government lost 19.6 million hours to employees who were absent without leave.

Coburn continued that in 2011 the government paid for over 3.4 million hours, spending $155 million on employees that were not performing official work, including “union-related activities.”

“For some employees, union activities take up 100 percent of their time and, as a consequence, they do not perform any work for taxpayers providing for their salaries,” Coburn wrote in his letter. He added that the nearly 3.4 million hours spent on unofficial work, which was cited in a 2011 OPM report, constitutes the equivalent of a full year’s worth of work for 1,632 employees.

Another area Coburn pointed out for consideration were the employees paid to “stand by.”

“An employee receiving standby pay is regularly required ‘to remain at, or within the confines of, his station during longer than ordinary periods of duty, a substantial part of which consists of remaining in a standby status rather than performing work,’” Coburn explained. “At least 919 employees received standby pay in 2010 and 906 received it in 2011, according to a new report compiled by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) at my request.”

According to Coburn, the cost of paying employees to stand by in 2010 and 2011 cost taxpayers over $13.1 million.

Finally pointed to government contractor employees who are “being paid to do nothing” as an area to find cost savings.

“Delays in the security clearance process have kept between 10 and 20 percent of all intelligence contractors sitting idle while they await a clearance, according to a December 2011 study of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance,” he wrote. “This process can take months even for already-cleared workers who are being re-cleared just for moving to a new agency. Under current arrangements, these employees are paid large salaries during the waiting periods, but are not given meaningful work.”

Coburn cited a Federal Times estimate that “wasted” contractor man-hours account for $900 million to $1.8 billion a month.

Coburn also requested the agencies provide additional information to the committee about the extent and cost of each of the categories he had highlighted by the end of May.

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