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U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

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On June 17, 2002, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a memorandum to agency and department heads describing her expectations when it comes to granting and using official time (see Appendix 1). She emphasized that labor and management are equally accountable to the taxpayer and have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately. She made it clear that she expects management and labor to develop sensible arrangements for official time that meet the needs and expectations of agencies, employees, and the ultimate customers -- the American people.

Believing that accountability to the American people begins with understanding the scope of the issue, the Director also instructed each agency and department to report to OPM by the end of each fiscal year on the number of hours of official time used by employees to perform representational activities. The first such report was due by October 31, 2002, covering FY 2002. OPM prepared guidance to assist agencies in compiling and reporting on official time.

In this summary, OPM's consolidates the official time reports from departments and agencies.


Official time is generally defined as authorized, paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees. Under the Labor-Management Relations law-chapter 71 of title 5-Congress allowed official time in two broad categories (see Appendix 2).

First, employees have a statutory right to receive official time to negotiate collective bargaining agreements and participate in impasse proceedings. Official time in this category can mean time spent bargaining with management over a term agreement that sets basic working conditions for unit employees for the life of that contract. It can also mean time spent negotiating during the life of the agreement, also known as mid-term bargaining. Most mid-term bargaining takes place when the union seeks to negotiate over the procedures an agency will follow when exercising its management rights or over the impact that an agency's decisions will have on bargaining unit employees.

Second, the law permits agencies and unions to negotiate official time in connection with other labor-management activities, as long as the time is deemed reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest. Examples include time spent meeting with employees to discuss problems in the workplace, handling employee grievances or formal administrative appeals, attending meetings called by the agency, and receiving training on labor relations topics. Official time in this category generally rises or falls depending on the nature and extent of labor-management activities, but in any case is restricted by the reasonableness standard imposed by the law.

Official time cannot be used for internal union business, such as organizing new members or campaigning for office, nor can it be used for partisan political activities.


In 1976, the Civil Service Commission issued a memorandum instructing agencies on how to carry out their responsibilities for authorizing official time. Agencies were also directed to establish recordkeeping systems to track official time. After finding that 18 of 26 bargaining units at four agencies had no records of official time usage, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report in 1979 recommending that OPM (no longer the Civil Service Commission) direct agencies to comply with recordkeeping requirements. GAO also recommended that OPM require agencies to submit annual reports on official time.

In response, OPM issued Federal Personnel Manual letter 711-161, which required agencies to develop recordkeeping systems for official time no later than January 1, 1982. OPM did not, however, require agencies to report annually on official time as GAO had recommended. When the Federal Personnel Manual was abolished in 1994, all recordkeeping requirements for official time also were abolished.

In 1998, OPM was directed to prepare a report on official time usage for the House Committee on Appropriations. OPM was instructed to sample official time use for a six-month period. We collected and analyzed official time data from some 70 Federal agencies covering over 2,100 bargaining units. Our findings were submitted to the Appropriations Committee in November 1998 in a comprehensive report entitled Official Time and Services Used by Unions Representing Federal Employees.


In response to the Director's June 2002 memorandum, agencies reported to OPM on the number of hours of official time used by employees in FY 2002 to perform representational activities. In comparison to the 1998 figures, the number of hours of official time increased 10.0 percent (4,332,608 to 4,765,848) (see table 1). The estimated cost of official time increased 5.52 percent ($108,297,000 to $114,280,000) (see table 2). In considering these figures, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  • Bargaining over term agreements requires considerable official time, but not all agencies and unions negotiate term agreements in the same year. Contracts typically expire after three years but only some are renegotiated. Others are continued by the parties for another fixed term without new negotiations. We do not know the extent of term bargaining activities in 2002.
  • Mid-term bargaining, another major source of official time, is largely driven by the degree to which agencies exercise their management rights. In any given year there may be reorganizations, downsizing, or workplace change initiatives that require more mid-term bargaining - and more official time - in comparison to other years. We do not know whether this was the case in 2002.
  • The number of grievances may lead to changes in official time as well. Official time use will typically rise with an increase in the number of grievances and fall as grievances and other workplace disputes decrease. However, if cooperative efforts are employed to reduce grievances and improve labor-management relations, the use of official time in connection with such cooperative initiatives may actually rise, at least in the early stages. We do not have information on grievances and dispute resolution efforts for 2002.


The total number of hours of official time increased 10.0 percent since 1998, rising from 4,332,608 to 4,765,848 in FY 2002. The average amount of official time per bargaining unit employee in FY 2002 was 4.21 hours. In FY 1998, the average amount was 3.99 hours per employee.

Among major agencies, the Department of Transportation had by far the greatest increase in both the number of hours of official time (193,728 in 1998 to 612,397 in FY 2002) and the average number of hours per bargaining unit employee (5.7 to 13.9). This may be attributed to the high level of employee organizing that has occurred in recent years at the Federal Aviation Administration and the addition of over 10,000 bargaining unit employees since 1998. Other agencies showing significant increases in hours of official time since 1998 include Commerce (18,566 to 47,328); Justice (105,150 to 164,504); and Veterans Affairs (606,150 to 756,407).

Major agencies experiencing a significant decline in the number of hours of official time include Agriculture (164,482 to 127,188); Housing and Urban Development (37,340 to 20,062); and Interior (49,188 to 33,669). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw the largest decline in the use of official time per bargaining unit employee (10.87 to 5.9). EEOC attributes this decline to the improved relationship between labor and management, more open communications, and an increase in expertise on the part of employee representatives.

Table 1. Official Time by Major Agency for 2002 and 1998
Agency Official Time (hours) # of Bargaining Unit (BU) Employees3 Official Time per BU Employee Annualized Official Time (hours) # of BU Employees Official Time per BU Employee
Agriculture 127,188 43,533 2.92 164,482 38,921 4.23
Commerce 47,238 18,006 2.62 18,566 15,026 1.24
Defense 1,301,718 478,375 2.72 1,360,120 483,006 2.82
Education 16,373 3,287 4.98 21,904 3,140 6.98
Energy 17,400 7,071 2.46 17,626 9,029 1.95
HHS 54,289 28,494 1.91 64,766 24,426 2.65
HUD 20,062 7,255 2.77 37,340 9,876 3.78
Interior 33,669 21,911 1.54 49,188 22,304 2.21
Justice 164,504 52,979 3.11 105,150 43,427 2.42
Labor 98,340 12,055 8.16 101,500 11,085 9.16
State 8,917 12,936 0.69 3,714 11,321 0.33
Transportation 612,397 44,190 13.86 193,728 33,859 5.72
Treasury 846,910 117,384 7.21 955,666 117,766 8.11
VA 756,407 162,240 4.66 606,150 165,797 3.66
EEOC 12,238 2,075 5.90 20,408 1,877 10.87
EPA 54,740 12,519 4.37 42,152 8,334 5.06
FDIC 13,636 4,349 3.14 16,308 5,886 2.77
GPO 13,108 2,418 5.42 17,380 2,978 5.84
GSA 41,606 8,245 5.05 43,236 9,287 4.66
NASA 13,620 10,635 1.28 19,194 11,831 1.62
NRC 5,173 1,974 2.62 13,530 2,171 6.23
OPM 8,733 1,562 5.59 14,330 1,800 7.96
SSA 431,316 51,532 8.37 395,384 51,506 7.68
All Others 66,266 27,376 2.42 50,786 14,761 3.44
Total Federal Government 4,765,848 1,132,401 4.21 4,332,608 1,084,653 3.99
1 For fiscal year 2002.
2 1998 data was collected for a 6 month period. To compare 1998 data to annual 2002 data, we doubled the 6 month 1998 data
3 The number of employees represented by bargaining units is from January, 2003.


While OPM did not ask for the cost of official time in 2002, we attempted to calculate this number. Cost figures were estimated for each agency by multiplying:

  • September 2002 Central Personnel Data File average agency bargaining unit employee annual salary divided by 2080 hours


  • the number of official time hours reported for 2002.

    In 1998, agencies reported to OPM the cost of official time for the 6 month data collection period required by Congress. For purposes of comparing 1998 data to annual data for 2002, we doubled the 6 month 1998 data. Using this method, the cost of official time was estimated to be $114,280,000 for FY 2002, an increase of approximately 5.52 percent over FY 1998's estimate of $108,297,000.

Table 2. Cost of Official Time by Major Agency for 2002 and 1998
Agency Cost of Official Time 20024 Cost of Official Time 19985 (annualized)
Agriculture $2,422,000 $3,471,000
Commerce $1,224,000 $363,000
Defense $29,175,000 $31,603,000
Education $502,000 $701,000
Energy $575,000 $632,000
HHS $1,469,000 $3,128,000
HUD $621,000 $1,188,000
Interior $705,000 $1,177,000
Justice $3,678,000 $2,647,000
Labor $2,722,000 $3,468,000
State $271,000 $129,000
Transportation $22,530,000 $7,671,000
Treasury $19,629,000 $20,855,000
VA $16,859,000 $12,867,000
EEOC $356,000 $643,000
EPA $1,881,000 $1,260,000
FDIC $538,000 N/A
GPO $306,000 $471,000
GSA $1,091,000 $1,143,000
NASA $497,000 $752,000
NRC $204,000 $602,000
OPM $175,000 $394,000
SSA $10,267,000 $11,255,000
Total Federal Government $114,280,000 $108,297,000
4 Cost figures were estimated by Agency by multiplying (1) September 2002 Central Personnel Data File average Agency bargaining unit employee annual salary divided by 2080 hours by (2) the number of official time hours for 2002.
5 In 1998, Agencies reported to OPM the cost of official time for the 6 month data collection period. For purposes of comparing 1998 data to annual data for 2002, we doubled the 6 month 1998 data and adjusted for annual Federal pay raises using 3 percent annual growth.

Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Appendix 4

Labor Management Relations