Brachfeld, 54, was put on paid administrative leave in September after an employee on his staff accused him of misconduct. He has not been interviewed by the panel that investigates complaints against inspectors general. It meets just four times a year.
Cases such as his, in which a civil servant is accused of breaking rules, can go on for months and even years. Some involve accusations of cut-and-dried misconduct — threatening violence, for example — that lead to paid leave while the case is investigated. Other employees are caught up in more ambiguous circumstances, such as blowing the whistle on wrongdoing or filing a complaint alleging employment discrimination.
In a system that rarely fires people, no one can say how many are on paid administrative leave. It’s one number the government apparently doesn’t track.
“It’s the federal government’s dirty little secret, how much they do it,” said Debra D’Agostino, founding partner of the Federal Practice Group, an employment law firm.
Brachfeld, who was put on leave by the Archives’ chief after a dispute with an agent on his staff, said he was “placed under virtual home detention” based on “untested smears” to which he has not been able to respond. The agent alleges that the inspector general altered audits, used vulgar language and gave CBS News’s “60 Minutes” sensitive information before its release was authorized.
There are 64 reasons listed in the “Administrative Leave/Excused Absence” section of the Office of Personnel Management rule book that officially allow government employees paid time off. They range from giving blood to attending a Boy or Girl Scout jamboree. And then there are the Brachfelds of the federal world, who are paid to do nothing or banished to perform telework with the kind of flexible schedule in which no meaningful assignments materialize.
The status is not, as some critics of public-sector workers might conclude, a day at the beach — Brachfeld actually had to put in for vacation time to get his.
“I’ve had clients [on paid leave] for long periods of time who absolutely hated it,” said William Bransford, general counsel for the Senior Executives Association, which represents 7,000 government executives. “The perception that’s spun is that this is a paid vacation. But employees want to know what’s going to happen to them as quickly as anybody else.”