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WASTE: VA Expends 809,740 Man-hours Per Year…on Government Employees Union Business

The Veterans Administration spent some $5.3 million dollars sending employees to conferences around the country in order to train them on the implementation of a new contract with the powerful government employees union, according to reporting from the Washington Examiner.

“Travel and other expenses to send about 2,100 VA employees to more than two dozen such events totaled $5.3 million, but those costs were only one of many perks the department agreed to pay for under the agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).”

The Washington Examiner also discovered a curious arrangement between the Veterans Administration and the AFGE: The VA spends $34 million per year paying union officials to work exclusively on union activities. Even though the AFGE has substantial coffers of its own – the result of the contributions of union members, the taxpayer is funding this much in “official time,” that is, man-hours allocated and authorized by the government to allow union leadership to work against the interest of the taxpayer while “on the clock.” Official time amounted to about 809,740 man-hours for union officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs alone in 2010, according to the Office of Personnel Management and Budget.

Error 404

To put that into perspective, that’s 404 full-time equivalents – at taxpayers’ expense, to provide no value for the taxpayer, nor for veterans.

That’s 404 workers’ worth of cases not being reviewed, of benefits not being processed, of backlogs continuing to pile up. That’s 404 nurses not providing care. That’s 10 clinics nationwide we can’t run because we are paying for lunch buffets and tshatshkes.

If those workers were dedicated to working on the VA backlog, and each worker could process 10 cases per day, Monday through Friday, that’s over a million cases worth of work getting put aside so VA workers can work on unofficial business on the public dime.

Among the Examiner’s other findings:

  • The VA spent over $5 million last year on two conferences in Orlando, including travel costs
  • The VA spent over $90,000 on “coffee break refreshments” at these conferences
  • The VA spent over $50,000 contracting a private industry filmmaker to make a “Patton” parody, even though the VA has its own in-house videography department currently collecting a paycheck
  • Despite earlier claims that the VA had spent only $20 million on conferences last year, the VA was forced to admit that it had actually spent $100 million last year on conferences

Union Leader Complains of Manpower Shortages

Ironically, the president of the AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council went on record last year criticizing the VA for awarding bonuses to mid-level VA executives despite claims of critical manpower shortages causing poor delivery of services to veterans:

"The idea that frontline employees have to stretch resources with limited staff, while executives continue to receive large bonuses is mindboggling,” President Alma Lee told a reporter from Health Leader’s Media last year. “If the VA is serious about recruiting and retaining highly trained and capable staff, it should reinvest in frontline staff, not top level bureaucracy."

Alma Lee is a full-time federal employee who does nothing but work for the interests of the union as do her three regional vice presidents. The terms of the VA’s agreement with the AFL-CIO and the National Veterans Affairs Council require the taxpayer to fund their benefits and salaries directly. They do not rely on employee contributions. Even so, that’s just three full-time equivalents, of about 2,000 hours each per year, each. Veterans are still losing out on more than 800,000 man-hours of value per year.

We have frontline staff. The government employees’ union is pulling them off the job.

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