GAO report finds thousands of government workers on paid leave, costing taxpayers millions

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Thousands of federal workers who have been put on administrative leave for more than a month have been allowed to collect a paycheck, and accrue vacation days and pension benefits, while taxpayers were forced to foot the multi-million-dollar bill, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Some government employees who broke the rules – meaning they were cited for being untrustworthy or had ongoing issues with co-workers or their bosses -- were allowed to remain on leave for large chunks of time while they challenged their demotions, the 62-page report said.

The study, released publicly on Monday, marks the first time auditors have taken a look at the scope of administrative leave and its cost to taxpayers.

During a three-year period, more than 57,000 employees were told to go home – and stay home -- for 30 days or more, costing taxpayers $775 million in salary alone. The report found that 53,000 civilian employees were kept home for one to three months. Another 4,000 were kept off the job for three months to a year and hundreds more for one to three years.

The report also identified a disparity among how paid leaves were granted and recorded.

The report listed the Department of Defense as having the highest number of paid leaves on record. During the three fiscal years that ended in September 2013, DOD put 8,600 employees on leave for one to three months, close to 900 for three months to a full year and 123 employees for more than a year.

Federal agencies have the discretion to put employees on administrative leave for a number of different reasons, including blood donations and snow days.

Republican Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Tom Coburn, R-Okla, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., requested the GAO report. Grassley, along with Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, have been working together on legislation that would define which employees would be allowed to stay home, reasons paid leave would be granted and the duration.

The number of federal employees put on paid leave typically eclipses the number at private companies. Private companies will rarely pay employees while investigating claims and in the cases where they do, the leave lasts for only a few days.

“The private sector is focused on operating efficiently,” Kathy Albarado, chief executive of Helios HR, a consulting firm located in Northern Virginia, told The Washington Post in an interview.

Jeffrey Neal, a federal personnel manager who retired in 2011 as the Department of Homeland Security’s human capital chief, told the paper, “Unless you think somebody is going to get a gun and shoot people, then send them to work.”