WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a full accounting of why each of 88 employees has been on paid administrative leave for more than a year. Grassley’s request comes after an inadequate explanation from the agency on its use of paid administrative leave.
DHS’ explanation of the reasons for such extended periods of paid leave was “too broad and vague to assess whether other actions might have been more appropriate,” Grassley wrote to Secretary Jeh Johnson.
In his letter, Grassley said DHS failed to explain how it met applicable Office of Personnel Management authority “to use administrative leave ‘for those rare circumstances’ in which the employee ‘may pose a threat to the employee or others, result in loss of or damage to Government property, or otherwise jeopardize legitimate Government interests,’ or how its actions were consistent with the numerous” Government Accountability Office decisions “limiting administrative leave to brief duration.” Grassley’s letter continued, “DHS also failed to explain why such extended amounts of time were needed to conduct investigations into security issues, misconduct, or fitness for duty.”
In a response to Grassley in January, DHS reported 88 employees who had been placed on paid administrative leave for a year or more:
• Four of these employees were on administrative leave for approximately 3 years or more, 2 of whom continued to be on administrative leave at the time of DHS’ response.
• An additional 17 employees were reportedly on administrative leave for approximately 2 years or more, including 5 who remained in this status at the time of DHS’ response.
• These 88 employees were across the department’s components, suggesting systemic misuse of paid administrative leave.
Last October, Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa wrote to 17 agencies and the inspector general for one agency featured in a report from the Government Accountability Office, issued at their request. The GAO report examined data from fiscal years 2011 to 2013 from more than 100 federal agencies. GAO found:
• Three percent of federal employees took between 1 month and 3 years of paid administrative leave. Of those, 263 employees charged between 1 and 3 years of paid administrative leave.
• Salary estimates for paid administrative leave for fiscal years 2011–2013 totaled nearly $3.1 billion. Salary estimates for the 263 employees who took between 1 and 3 years totaled $31 million.
• Of employees taking relatively higher amounts of leave at selected agencies, GAO found the most common reasons for charging higher-than-average amounts of paid administrative leave included personnel matters (such as investigations into alleged misconduct or criminal actions), physical fitness-related activities, and periods of rest and recuperation for employees working in overseas locations.
“Each agency handles administrative leave on its own terms in the absence of clear guidance that should apply to everyone,” Grassley said. “The result is employees’ getting paid to stay home, sometimes for more than a year, while management keeps them in limbo. This is detrimental to taxpayers and good government. The agencies should account for each case of paid leave, especially those lasting more than a year. The explanations will help Congress arrive at solutions to stop abusively long leave.”
Grassley is working with Sen. Jon Tester on potential legislation that would force agencies to make a decision on whether an employee is a danger to fellow employees and must be removed from the workplace or whether that person can be reassigned while his case is resolved. “The goal is to make sure federal employees are working for taxpayers and not lingering on paid leave at taxpayer expense,” Grassley said.