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Biden admin silent as federal accountability site for union work remains missing

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A federal accountability website meant to hold unions accountable was taken down last year. Months later, despite federal employees saying the site would return, it is still absent from the internet.

“OPM should just drop the pretense and admit that it has no intention of restoring the official time webpage,” Maxford Nelsen, director of Research and Government Affairs for the Freedom Foundation, told The Center Square.

The Office of Personnel Management created the site in question to track “official time,” which is when union members are on the clock with the federal government but spend that time working on behalf of unions.

Those federal employees collect a paycheck from the federal government – and as a result, taxpayers – while doing union work. Approved official time activities include participating in contract negotiations and helping represent workers who are filing a claim or complaint against the government but not soliciting new members.

Lines can become blurred, though, and accountability on the issue has been hit and miss in years past.

Now, the site to track that “official time” is missing with no word on when it will return.

“Taxpayers deserve to know how much time federal employees spend working on union business instead of doing the job for which they were hired, and what the practice costs,” Nelsen said. “Instead, the administration is shamefully trying to increase official time use, stop measuring it, and bury historic information about it, all at the same time.”

OPM did not respond to a request for comment.

Sources familiar with the matter told The Center Square that OPM has promised an update on the issue soon.

When The Center Square first reported on the missing site last November, an OPM spokesperson told The Center Square “previous reports on official time are not currently available because OPM is reorganizing our website to improve navigation and customer experience.”

However, months later, several previously online sites logging official time reports and explanations now go to 404 page error pages.

As The Center Square previously reported, federal employees working on behalf of unions has been going on for decades and was codified in 1978. However, accountability to make sure unions do not abuse the system has been a concern from the very beginning.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 1979 that “no one knows how much official time is authorized for Federal employees” due to “widespread failure” of record keeping, the very issue OPM is working through more than 40 years later.

The GAO made a similar claim about record-keeping concerns in 1996 before Congress.

Then, in May 2018, then President Donald Trump issued an executive order to crack down on official time use, limiting and regulating the practice, but President Joe Biden repealed that order when he became president.

Biden has repeatedly touted his pro-union stance, especially on the campaign trail, and his administration’s work reflects it. Aside from the missing accountability site, in another instance, the National Federation of Federal Employees’ thanked Biden in a document on its website for helping it recruit more federal workers to its union.

OPM had altered its federal database to make it easier for unions to target and recruit employees not supporting the union.

“This upgraded resource will be an excellent tool for our union to locate non-union employees across the federal government who are rightfully entitled to representation and a voice in their workplace,” NFFE National President Randy Erwin said in the release, which has now been removed. “NFFE specifically requested assistance in identifying the hundreds of thousands of unrepresented government workers, and today OPM delivered on its commitment to promote employee organizing and collective bargaining by rolling out the enhanced database. We are excited to help these federal employees who have not yet joined a union organize in their workplaces and obtain critical rights and benefits through unionizing.”

After The Center Square reported the news, the union took the document thanking Biden down from its website.

Despite Biden’s backing, union power has not exploded. According to federal data, the percentage of hourly and salaried workers who were part of a union decreased last year.

The percentage in 2023 declined slightly from 10.1% of the workforce to 10% even, continuing a steady trend. The same federal data shows that in 1983, roughly 20% of the workers were in a union.

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