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Limits on fed worker administrative leaves now before Congress

Texas readers will surely agree that there are times when administrative leaves make some sense and times when they don't. As we noted in a previous post, sometimes the realities of the federal budget or lack thereof require agencies to employ administrative furloughs as a strategy to limit the possibility of adverse employment actions.

However, as a few recent reports have noted and critics have picked up on, some agency managers appear to have abused their power to use administrative leaves to the detriment of the rights of federal workers and the pocketbooks of taxpayers. As a result, both chambers of Congress are now considering legislation to curb the activity.

Support for the measures is proving to be bipartisan and the reason why is not hard to understand. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, there were tens of thousands of federal employees on paid administrative leave for periods of at least a month during a three-year study period. In about 260 cases workers were on paid leave from one to three years. The most common reason for such steps was that the workers were being investigated for alleged misconduct or facing other administrative actions.

The GAO report says that in just that three-year window it estimates the government paid out more than $700 million dollars in salary alone. Tack on benefit costs and the total rises.

The chief sponsor of the Senate bill, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, says he thinks the amount spent is even higher than that. And he says government managers have been using paid administrative leave policies either to shirk their managerial duties or to punish whistleblowers.

The measure before the Senate would restrict the use of paid leaves, improve reporting of its use and require agencies to explain to workers why action is being taken if they are put on either investigative or notice leave.

Whether the measure will become law can't be known until the final gavel. In the meantime, federal workers targeted by what actions they suspect to be wrongful, discriminatory or retaliatory, should know that there are experienced attorneys who ready to offer help.

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