In October, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that more than 57,000 federal employees have been on paid leave for at least one month during the past three years. Several thousand employees were on leave for between three months and a year, and hundreds more for one to three years, as they awaited punishment or clearance for misconduct.
Over the three-year period under investigation, the GAO found that idle federal employees were paid $775 million in salaries. They also built up their pensions, accrued vacation and sick days, and received pay hikes. And the GAO findings likely underestimate the total, since only three-fifths of agencies record the number of employees on leave.
While there is no specific law governing paid leave, the Office of Personnel Management rulebook has guidelines on when it is appropriate. According to those guidelines, extended paid leave is acceptable only in "rare circumstances." In reality, some employees claim managers use the practice to deal with problem employees, including whistleblowers.
Attempting to rein in the abuse, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are collaborating on legislation to strictly define when paid leave is appropriate.