On April 17, 2007, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued its long-awaited final regulations regarding the administration of a new benefit for employees — compensatory time for official travel. The final regulations correct some, but not all, of the problems identified in comments submitted by NTEU in March 2005 to the interim regulations.
In 2004, NTEU was instrumental in securing the passage of legislation that for the first time provided payment in the form of compensatory time to employees required to travel for government business at times when they were not otherwise compensated (by regular pay or overtime). In that legislation, OPM was given authority to issue implementing regulations.
In the interim regulations, OPM stated that travel time and the "usual waiting time" at the airport or train station are compensable, but it proposed to exclude "bona fide meal periods" during the waiting time. NTEU pointed out in its comments that this proposed exclusion led to absurd results. Employees could doze, chat, read, make personal phone calls, or buy a sandwich to eat on the plane while they waited and be compensated, but might not be compensated if they sat at a restaurant at the airport during this same time. OPM agreed that "agencies should not try to make distinctions in the employee's activities during waiting time" and deleted this limitation.
OPM set out a time period of 26 pay periods for employees to use their earned compensatory time off, a time period that NTEU thought was reasonable. It agreed with NTEU, however, that agencies should have the discretion to extend this time period if an employee’s failure to use the time is due to an exigency beyond the employee’s control.
OPM rejected some other suggestions by NTEU, the most serious having to do with its refusal to permit employees to earn compensatory time for official travel on holidays. OPM based this exclusion on statutory language permitting compensatory time only for hours that are not "otherwise compensable" and argued that employees receive their regular pay on holidays. (For more on this story, click here). NTEU in its comments objected to this overly literal reading of the statute and called it contrary to Congress' underlying intent to assure employees are compensated for the loss of their free time. NTEU will now work with agencies to make sure that employees are not required to travel on a holiday to get to their assignment or meeting.