Some federal agencies are breaking Biden’s promise to give time off to vote

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According to dozens of workers, the union that represents them and the internal policies examined by government executive.

President Biden in March 2021 signed an executive order directing agencies that they should grant staff four hours of paid administrative leave to vote in any federal, state, local, or tribal election and an additional four hours to serve at the polls as a volunteer . In practice, according to federal staff and the American Federation of Government Employees, frontline supervisors in a slew of offices flatly reject most leave requests.

Jacque Simon, director of policy at AFGE, said that in federal offices across the country, managers have disapproved of administrative leave without explanation or even issued blanket denials to all requests. Employees said they attempted to engage with executives to discuss Biden’s order and subsequent Office of Personnel Management directives to implement it, but were largely rebuffed.

The OPM told agencies they “should” allow employees to take the leave, offering some wiggle room because it didn’t say they had to. The leave is “subject to a determination by the agency that the employee can be relieved of duty for the specific time period requested by the employee without significantly impairing mission-critical operations,” the statement said. OPM.

Yet the agencies seem to take a more restrictive approach than that set out by the administration. The Government Publishing Office, for example, which employees had flagged as rejecting applications, provided its election leave policy, which included important approval conditions not included in the EO or OPM guidelines. The GPO, as a legislative branch agency, was technically not subject to Biden’s order, but Simon noted that this reflected a similar approach that many agencies have taken.

To qualify for the bonus leave, the GPO said, employees must be unable to vote due to work duties, such as work-related travel, and not have access to mail-in voting. Early voting options must also be the same hours as normal Election Day hours to remain eligible for the leave. If an employee can vote on alternate days earlier in the morning or later at night than what is available on Nov. 8, GPO would not provide administrative time off. Gary Somerset, a GPO spokesman, said the agency’s policies “certainly meet [the Biden] the spirit and intent of the order.

Other agencies that employees have reported as unresponsive to requests for time off to vote include the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Transportation Safety Administration, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Defense. Carter Langston, a spokesperson for the TSA, said individual facilities may reject requests if they fear too many employees are taking off. Ensuring adequate staffing at all times, he said, is “task number one”.

“The TSA is offering its employees time off to accommodate voting, if it’s necessary to vote during work hours,” Langston said. “In granting leave requests, the agency must also balance the needs of its operational and mission requirements. The TSA encourages employees to vote and exercise their right to do so.

VA policy instructed supervisors that they “shall” grant leave, subject to agency needs. He stressed that employees should seek approval before taking the leave so as not to disrupt operations.

“VA encourages participation in the democratic process for our entire community, including veterans and VA employees,” spokesperson Randy Noller said. “To that end, we ask supervisors to allow all employees time to vote and volunteer to work in the polls, as outlined in AV and OPM policies.” He did not directly address allegations that VA supervisors were not following this directive.

The OPM has ordered agencies to proactively notify all employees of their eligibility for administrative leave, which the TSA did last month in a staff-wide email. However, many employees said such notifications did not take place.

Simon suggested the agencies were looking for excuses to deny the leave request, contrary to the spirit of Biden’s order and OPM guidelines. The human resources agency said its instructions would support the “fundamental goals” of promoting democracy, reducing barriers to voting for federal employees and positioning the federal government “as a model employer.” OPM did not respond to a request for comment.

“They have this loophole that they’re exploiting, which is unfortunate,” Simon said. She added that many states had required leave to vote and the government was relatively restrictive. “Instead of encouraging people to vote, he puts obstacles in the way.”

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