Oh Damn and Blast! @StateDept’s Administrative Leave Data Is One Hot Mess

Posted: 3:32 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

According to State/OIG, administrative leave is granted to employees as an authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or use of leave for various reasons unrelated to employee conduct, such as blood donations and weather-related closures. It may also be granted to employees who are under investigation for misconduct.  Senator Charles Grassley asked State/OIG for a description of the State Department’s administrative leave policies and the controls in place to prevent extensive use of administrative leave. On October 3, State/OIG posted online its report, Department of State Has Administrative Leave Policies but Lacks Complete and Accurate Data on the Use of Leave.

In response to the congressional request, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the use of administrative leave at the Department of State (Department). The objectives of the evaluation were (1) to describe the Department’s administrative leave policies and (2) to determine the amount of administrative leave Department employees used from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave.

State/OIG obtained data on administrative leave granted to Department employees from 2011 through 2015 from the Bureau of Human Resources (HR). For several of these employees, OIG also reviewed select records from the Time and Attendance Telecommunications Line (TATEL) system, the Department’s time and attendance tracking system.

Excerpt from OIG report:

  • At the Department of State, administrative leave can be authorized in 26 circumstances not related to conduct. Employees under investigation for misconduct may also be placed on administrative leave if their continued presence in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, may result in loss of or damage to government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests. Conduct- related administrative leave over 16 hours may only be granted by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources.
  • OIG intended to determine the amount of administrative leave used by Department employees from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave. However, the Department did not provide OIG with sufficient data to make these determinations. Consequently, OIG is unable to make any assessments about the Department’s use of administrative leave. OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data the Department provided: (1) the Department lacks a centralized source of information regarding the justification for why administrative leave is granted and (2) HR data on the hours of administrative leave used conflicts with data from individual employing offices.

Administrative Leave Not Related to Conduct: 26 Circumstances

  • There are 26 circumstances not related to conduct where administrative leave can be authorized. These circumstances include Federal holidays, voting, hazardous weather conditions, packing.unpacking, blood/organ donation, funerals, time zone dislocation adjustment period to name a few and several miscellaneous reasons like group dismissals for a reasonable period due to extreme climatic conditions; civil disturbance; transportation failure; breakdown of heating/cooling systems; natural disaster, etc.; jury duty; and absence due to an injury incurred while serving abroad and resulting from war, insurgency, mob violence or hostile action.  The amount of time authorized by the FAM and the FAH for administrative leave in these circumstances varies from one hour to one year.
State/HR’s Unreliable Data
  • In response to OIG’s request for information on administrative leave granted to Department employees, HR provided a report created by CGFS using TATEL data transferred to the payroll system. According to this data, the Department recorded 8.36 million hours of administrative leave for 33,205 employees from January 2011 to January 2015; however, their data was unreliable. Specifically, OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data that the Department provided. […] Currently, the only way to determine the justification for an employee’s administrative leave is to review the timesheet, ask the employee, or ask the employing bureau. The Department is currently updating its payroll systems, including modernization of its time and attendance systems. Once this project is completed, there will be more information available on specific uses of administrative leave. However, there is no expected completion date for the project.
  • OIG selected the 100 employees with the most hours of recorded administrative leave based on HR’s data and requested the justification from the applicable employing bureaus.17 According to the data provided by HR, these 100 employees recorded over 320,000 hours of administrative leave during the period under evaluation. However, after reviewing the information the bureaus provided, OIG found that administrative leave hours reported by HR were incorrect for 84 of these 100 employees (84 percent). Four of the employees were on work-related travel as opposed to on administrative leave. The other 80 employees were at work on regular duty between January 2011 and January 2015—with the exception of holidays, scheduled sick and annual leave, and weather-related closures—and their time and attendance records maintained by their employing bureau did not support the large amounts of administrative leave indicated by the HR data. OIG interviews with several employees and supervisors corroborated this information.
  • Although HR officials told OIG that timekeeping error was the most likely source of the discrepancies between the HR data and the information provided by the employing bureaus,19 reports from TATEL reviewed by OIG demonstrated that timekeeper error does not explain the entirety of the large balances of the administrative leave indicated by the HR data.20

Administrative Leave Related to Conduct

  • OPM guidance states that administrative leave should be used only as “an immediate, temporary solution to the problem of an employee who should be kept away from the worksite.”13 OPM also recommends that administrative leave “should not be used for an extended or indefinite period or on a recurring basis” and agencies should “consider other options prior to use of administrative leave.”
  • Department policies follow this guidance and contain several controls to ensure that administrative leave is used only as a temporary solution for employees who should be kept out of the workplace. The FAM defines conduct-related administrative leave as leave authorized “when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests
  • The Deputy Assistant Secretary told OIG that he and his staff carefully scrutinize each request to ensure that there is sufficient documentation that an employee’s continued presence in the workplace poses an actual problem. They also encourage the bureau to explore other alternatives and have, in some cases, referred the issue to the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, or the Bureau of Medical Services. The Deputy Assistant Secretary has disapproved administrative leave requests when alternatives exist or when there is insufficient documentation of a problem.
  • Even when HR approves a request for administrative leave, leave is only authorized for a 30 day maximum. According to HR, this incremental approach ensures that it will reevaluate the employee’s status periodically to determine whether administrative leave continues to be necessary. HR identified three main justifications to place an employee on administrative leave for over 16 hours:
  1. loss of security clearance
  2. medical-related issues
  3. violence or threatening conduct

63,000 Hours in a 4-Year Period

  • Despite these deficiencies, OIG found that more complete information exists for employees on conduct-related administrative leave. For example, sixteen of the 100 employees OIG reviewed had accurately recorded administrative leave and 15 of these were conduct-related cases. For each of these cases, HR confirmed that it had followed Department policy in granting administrative leave to ensure that the employee’s continued presence in the workplace posed a serious problem. These employees represented approximately 63,000 hours of administrative leave in the four-year period
  • According to HR, one of the reasons for these large balances is the difficulty in finding alternative work assignments or locations for employees who are on administrative leave because their security clearances have been suspended. The nature of the Department’s work limits the number of positions for which a security clearance is not required. Department offices may have unclassified work that employees can perform, but those employees would have to be escorted and monitored because most offices are secure spaces. Furthermore, employees who have had their clearances suspended may pose a risk even in unclassified areas.

The original report is posted here (PDF), or read in full below (click on the arrow at the lower right hand side of the box below to maximize view).

Related posts:

#