Around $156 million, that's how much taxpayers spent in 2011 on federal employees who did no federal work at all.
These aren't people who fail to perform the work assigned to them, but rather employees who are not assigned any federal work at all.
Under the law, a federal agency can pay its employees who act as union stewards on a full-time basis to work for an outside entity, the public employee union.
This practice, known as "official time," is nothing more than a subsidy to the public employee unions who benefit from these taxpayer-funded employees.
According to the Office of Personnel Management, millions of dollars that the federal government spent on official time paid for full- and part-time union employees.
Unfortunately, in 2011, the government did not disclose just how many employees were being paid to do nothing for the taxpayers.
But now, due to a public personnel disclosure project being conducted by Americans for Limited Government, this is changing.
Under the project, ALG has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to find out how widespread is this practice of paying employees full time to work for a union no matter how many employees are involved.
The results have been stunning. The U.S. Department of Transportation disclosed that is has 35 employees on full-time "official time" and their average salary is $138,000 per year. Many of these employees have salaries in excess of $170,000 per year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed that it spends more than $1.6 million per year on employees who work full time for the union.
The National Labor Relations Board disclosed that they have two employees working full time for the union and that they both make over $100,000 per year.
However, all of this pales in comparison to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA department has over 250 employees working full time for unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.
At least one of these 250 doesn't even report to work at a department facility, but rather "teleworks from a private AFGE office in D.C. In addition to other reasons, this begs the question of why this person is on the federal payroll at all.
Under the collective bargaining agreements between the agencies and the unions, the work that these employees do on "official time" status is controlled by the union, not the agency.
Given the current sequester situation, massive deficit spending, agencies crying about strained budgets, threatening staff furloughs and closing the White House to public tours, now is a great opportunity to take a serious look at cutting costs. One area ripe for cuts is the "official time" practice.
If a union, or any other entity, wants to have employees perform a service, it should be willing to pay for that service. Taxpayers should not be forced to shoulder the personnel costs of the very public employee unions which spend their time advocating larger, more costly government.
Instead the unions should use the dues they collect to pay their own costs. And, if any of the threatened staff furloughs occur, those who are on "official time" and are not actually working for the taxpayers should be furloughed first. If their services are of value, then the union can pick up the tab for these services rather than you and me.
Nathan Mehrens is general counsel for Americans for Limited Government.