Social Security seeks probe of 'official time' House panel heard allegations of abuse

July 31, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The inspector general of the Social Security Administration has been asked to review allegations that some employees at the agency's Baltimore headquarters pursued hobbies or held part-time jobs -- even selling hot dogs at Camden Yards -- while they were supposed to be spending paid time on union activities.

The decision by agency officials to request the inquiry was prompted by congressional testimony last week from a former shop steward who made broad, but undetailed accusations of abuse of the policy of "official time."

Under the policy, workers can use paid agency time to perform key union duties or to work on management-labor task forces to address the concerns of senior citizens and others who receive monthly subsidies from the Social Security Administration.

But John Reusing, the former shop steward who is a claims authorizer for the agency in Baltimore, said many union officials and members abuse that time.

"Employees have observed union activists selling real estate, working at Camden Yards stadium and doing home maintenance while on 'official time,' " he told the House Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees Social Security.

"On many occasions, I have seen my colleagues using 'official time' to go shopping, conduct personal business or pursue hobbies such as fishing, golf and record-collecting," he said.

Paul D. Barnes, an assistant Social Security commissioner for human resources, said the agency takes Reusing's allegations seriously but knows of no evidence that they are well-founded.

Barnes and other agency officials said they have undertaken efforts to reform a fairly ad-hoc system of tracking employee activities on "official time."

But after Reusing's testimony, Barnes requested the review by James G. Huse Jr., the agency's acting inspector general.

"In Social Security, we have a zero tolerance of fraud and abuse," Barnes said. But he added, "There's no reason to believe that there is any widespread abuse."

Officials at the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents nearly all the agency's workers, have vigorously protested the characterization of "official time" as wasted time or even time solely spent to advance the union.

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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