Report Highlights Growing Trend of Federal Employees Missing in Action

Employees missed nearly 20 million hours of work in the last six years.

Aug. 21, 2008 — -- The federal government has 2.6 million civilian workers, making it the nation's largest employer. But, it turns out a growing number of these workers are not working.

"People have just flat not shown up for work," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. "My question is: If people aren't showing up for work, why are they still employed by the federal government?"

Coburn commissioned the report "Missing in Action: AWOL in the Federal Government," which tracked the number of absent workers without leave, AWOL workers, across 18 government agencies from 2001 to 2007.

It found that federal workers missed nearly 20 million hours of work in the last six years, not including vacation time or sick leave. On average, 2.8 million hours of work are lost per year because of AWOL absences.

The numbers show the formation of a growing trend: Forty-five percent more workers are absent without leave throughout different government agencies than in 2001.

But the question remains: How do they get away with it?

Coburn blamed layers of bureaucracy and inefficiency in government that have allowed the numbers to spiral without proper administration.

"There's no management consequence for them not showing up for work," Coburn said. "And what that does is undermine the effectiveness of any organization."

The union that represents many federal employees doesn't blame its workers, but rather the Bush administration.

"To me it's a scathing indictment of the Bush administration, their total incompetence and mismanagement and disdain for government and running government," said Mark Roth, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees/AFL-CIO. "Apparently, they are so asleep at the wheel that they're letting people go for months without any consequences."

While most employees said that their staff was diligent, some acknowledged that they noticed the problem.

"I think it depends on the agency," said Sarah Kennel, a federal government worker. But "it is true that there's, I think, a certain lack of accountability in certain offices."

Junius Scott, who works in the Department of the Treasury, said that while "everybody doesn't have the same mindset and work ethic to produce. … You kind of got to just acknowledge it, but don't let it bring you down."

But, 20 million hours of lost work comes out to 10,000 years of work left unfinished, or it's as if a 30-year workload for 316 federal workers went unfinished.

While workers who are absent without official leave do not get paid, their workload goes unfinished, resulting in a loss of productivity of $7 billion to $10 billion a year.

The report found the Veterans Administration and the Department of the Treasury to be the worst violators, together accounting for 60 percent of the lost hours.

Also, the State Department and independent agencies don't monitor the number of AWOL workers, which could increase the number of lost work hours considerably, according to the report.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, the worst violator according to the report, has asked for more employees.

"I want to make the agencies accountable. I want them to report," Colburn said. "And I want to make sure Congress is aware of it."