Buzz of the Week: Have many feds gone AWOL?

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has raised a ruckus by lambasting federal agencies for tolerating employee absenteeism.

Using information provided by 18 agencies, Coburn determined that, since 2001, federal employees have missed 19.6 million hours of work without requesting approval for paid time off. And the number of lost hours is on the rise: from 2.5 million in 2001 to 3.5 million in 2007.

“It is inexcusable that federal agencies would sit by and let this problem get worse, while some agencies are completely unaware that there even is a problem,” Coburn said in a statement.

“Before agencies come hat-in-hand to Congress asking for money to hire more employees, they should fully use the ones they already have by getting the AWOL problem under control,” said Coburn, the ranking minority member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management Subcommittee.

Federal Computer Week has received numerous letters from readers angered by Coburn’s statements. Some readers were quick to point out problems with absenteeism in Congress. One letter pointed out that Coburn, according to the Washington Post, has missed approximately 200 votes since 1998. Several letters noted that Congress has not passed a budget on time for years.

However, two readers did a little digging of their own and came up with some data that puts Coburn’s report in a different perspective.

Point 1: Working with some numbers from the Office of Personnel Management, one reader calculated that the government’s 2.7 million civilian employees worked more than 5 billion hours a year. That means during the course of a year, the absenteeism averaged slightly more than one hour a year per employee.
That’s basically one long lunch break a year.

Point 2: A survey conducted by CCH, a tax and business law software provider, concludes that the absentee rate in the private sector was 2.3 percent in 2007. That’s an improvement from 2006, when it was 2.5 percent. But as the reader points out, it is still far worse than the federal government’s rate, which remains less than 1 percent.

What do you think? Send a letter to [email protected] (subject line: AWOL).


#2 I spy (for cash)
About 27 percent of the intelligence community is made up of hired hands, according to a new survey from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

That’s right. A lot of support personnel and maybe even a few spies are punching the clock for a private-sector firm instead of the government. That’s probably not such a bad thing, but it does make us wonder if the next version of James Bond will work for a large contractor instead of the British Crown.

“I’ll have a vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred. And I need a receipt for my expense forms.”

#3 Coming soon to a theater near you
“Mark of the Eagle,” a film about a heroic U.S. Postal Service carrier, is playing today on YouTube, not a theater. The serialized story, unspooling a few minutes per installment, is actually part of USPS’ effort to persuade people to use it instead of its private-sector competitors to ship packages.

Still, it could become a major motion picture. Keanu Reeves could star. Or Will Smith. Is his star still rising? Maybe opposite Scarlett Johannsen, with Chris Rock as the plucky sidekick/comic relief.

Sounds like a first-class idea. Maybe Smith could sign for the first one and two sequels in a package deal. It gets our stamp of approval.

#4 Army seeks reassurance on info assurance
The Army wants to know how companies protect their information, as it figures out how to protect its own. The key concern of a recent request for information the Army issued is sensitive but unclassified information.

Companies that want to respond should submit a report that describes the plans, policies and practices they use to protect such information.

Just a hint: If your system is to write the information down in Pig Latin, fold the paper into a square and tuck it between the pages of a book, you probably don’t need to bother submitting a report.


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