A new report from the Government Accountability Office might offer new insight into why queues at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) have been so notoriously long in recent years. The GAO reports that the VA employees who take a higher-than-average amount of days off work on administrative leave in fact missed a cumulative average of 54 days during fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, not counting federal holidays. Out of more than 312,000 total VA employees, 6,141 meet this criteria. One VA employee took 682 days off work during that period.
In the wake of the VA scandal from earlier this year, reports suggested that over 1,000 veterans might have died due to extended wait times and lack of care in VA offices across the country.
Out of the five Executive Branch agencies that the report studies, VA employees had the second most days taken for paid administrative leave, falling only behind the Department of Defense, which offers extended leave for those returning from military service overseas.
These VA employees took took a combined 330,055 days of administrative leave during dates covered by the report. The agency has 6,141 employees who fit this criteria, according to the report. Here are the complete numbers for all of the Federal agencies, including those not reviewed in the GAO's report:
The report only scrutinized the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). These specific agencies were chosen because of two factors, according to the report: "(1) the percentage of employees at each agency with amounts of paid administrative leave that were relatively higher than each agency’s average; and (2) the agency’s average amount of administrative leave per employee."
Across the board, personnel matters and physical fitness activities were found to be the most common reasons for charging large amounts of administrative leave. The VA is an outlier in this regard, the report found. "We found that official time for engaging in union activities were recorded as paid administrative leave [in the VA] because the agency’s time and attendance system does not have a job code to capture official time separately."
A total of 841 employees who took a higher-than-average amount of time off work missed 3-6 months of work between Fiscal Years 2011 -2013. Another 5,076 employees who took higher-than-average time off work missed between 1-3 months of work between 2011-2103.
Again, here are the numbers for all agencies:
In a response to the report, the VA noted that the agency is "reviewing its policies that govern how it approves and charges paid administrative leave."
The agency did not respond to Fusion's request for further comment by the publishing deadline. This story will be updated with further information as it becomes available.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that the average VA employee took 54 days in paid administrative leave between 2011-2013. In fact, it was only the VA workers who took more than average time off work who missed an average of 54. The story also erroneously stated the total amount of VA employees. There are currently more than 312,000 VA employees. The story has been corrected, and the headline has been updated to reflect the changes.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.