Grassley Releases Investigative Report on Agencies’ Use of Paid Administrative Leave, Endorses Report’s Recommendations to Clamp Down on Overuse
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today released a report from his oversight and investigative staff analyzing 18 federal agencies’ responses to his inquiries on paid administrative leave and endorsed the report’s recommendations for reining in this largely unproductive, expensive practice.
“Everything I’ve seen shows a Wild West environment among agencies on paid administrative leave,” Grassley said. “According to this report, and others related to it, every agency uses this leave differently. Some agencies use it too extensively, and the taxpayers get short-changed. The statutory and regulatory vacuum on the use of paid leave has contributed to this problem. As the report recommends, Congress should step in with legislation to fill the void. The legislation would make clear when paid administrative leave is allowable and when employees should be on the job instead. This kind of leave shouldn’t be a crutch for management to avoid making tough personnel decisions or a club for wrongdoers to use against whistleblowers.”
The report analyzes responses from 18 agencies to an inquiry from Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa in October 2014. The report finds that agencies use the paid leave designation broadly, “for everything from negotiating collective bargaining agreements to returning from active military duty to investigating allegations of employee misconduct.” This is because agencies’ policies on when this type of leave can be used and the appropriate length of time for paid leave vary widely.
Open-ended leave is expensive and unproductive for taxpayers, the report finds. Seventeen agencies spent almost $80.6 million to place employees on paid administrative leave for one month or more in fiscal year 2014. That amount might be lower than the reality due to the imprecise calculations some agencies provided.
Although requested by Grassley in his inquiry letters, agencies did not always provide sufficient justification for placing employees on administrative leave for more than one year, and their justifications varied widely. When reasons were provided, they were vague, such as “investigations for misconduct.” Agencies did not explain why these investigations took so long.
The report finds that the use of paid administrative leave can be troubling for employees, such as whistleblowers, whose managers might use leave as retaliation. Employees cannot appeal their administrative leave status.
The report concludes, “Based on the explanations and evidence received in the course of this inquiry, agencies are able to place an employee on administrative leave simply to avoid addressing an uncomfortable—or potentially even unjustifiable—personnel action. Maintaining this status quo serves neither the taxpayer nor the employee. Its costs are high, and its benefits dubious. Under current practice, employees who did commit misconduct can avoid accountability on a taxpayer-funded vacation, but employees unjustly accused are deprived of professional development and, more importantly, legal recourse, because employees in administrative leave status have no right to appeal its use.”
The report recommends statutory changes and other actions to: authorize and define administrative leave in statute; encourage agencies to use options other than paid administrative leave; limit paid administrative leave to specific purposes and short-term duration; provide safeguards against the retaliatory use of administrative leave; preserve non-duty pay status as authorized by law and in the interests of the agency; ensure tracking and recording of administrative leave; and continue and strengthen congressional oversight over administrative leave.
Grassley is working on bipartisan legislation to implement the recommendations. He is working with the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, with jurisdiction over leave policy, to develop and advance the legislation.
The report is available here. The appendices are available here, here and here.