The government would have to produce an annual report detailing the use of on-the-clock time by its employees for union purposes, including the number who spend all their working time on such matters, under a bill cleared by a House committee last week.

“Currently, there is no accurate reporting of official time, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year,” said an announcement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which approved the bill on a voice vote.

(Courtesy of AFGE) (Courtesy of AFGE)

“The sole job of some federal employees is to serve as a union representative. At a time when our country is almost $17 trillion in debt, we should not be spending money for federal employees to conduct union business during official work time,” sponsoring Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

On its own initiative, the Office of Personnel Management has produced annual accountings of official time for a decade. Its reports of recent years have called official time “a core component of the Federal Government’s carefully crafted collective bargaining system.” Authorizing such time allows unions to carry out their obligation under federal labor law to represent all members of their bargaining units, regardless of whether the employee pays union dues, the recent reports say.

The prior reports did not discuss those points — which federal unions commonly raise in defending official time — but merely presented data.

By law, official time is not to be used for internal union business such as conducting elections but rather is restricted to purposes such as bargaining and representing employees in grievances. Specific policies on its use commonly are negotiated into contracts.

The most recent report, covering fiscal 2011, showed that federal employees outside the U.S. Postal Service used 3.4 million hours on official time, a rate of 2.8 hours per bargaining unit employee, at a cost of $155.6 million. In comparison, the fiscal 2006 totals were 2.7 million hours, 2.6 hours per employee and $102.2 million; the fiscal 2002 totals were 4.8 million hours, 4.2 hours per employee and $114.3 million.

In addition to that data, the bill would require the annual report to include the number of employees to whom official time was granted, including the number who worked full-time on union matters. Those numbers currently aren’t being reported and the bill further would require the reports to be issued on a more regular basis, Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said in an e-mail.

Separate bills introduced this year in the Senate and House would eliminate official time.