I don't know how many of you remember the late movie star James Stewart who played in a number of films from the 1940s through the 1960s. One of the classics he starred in was "The Flight of the Phoenix," in which a plane crashes in the desert, and the crew, led by Stewart, attempts to build another plane from the wreckage led by an airplane designer who, it turns out, only designs model planes.
The scene that is really poignant is when the designer tells Stewart that he doesn't design big planes, only models. Stewart, who is hammering away and has had people working in the heat, starts stuttering in his James Stewart way and says, "Wait..wait..wait a minute, you mean to tell me, you had me working these people and you don't design planes?" Whereupon, Stewart takes his hammer and throws it in the desert in anger.
I felt the same way the other day as James Stewart did when the American Boardcasting Company did a story on a report released by U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma about the rapid growth of employees who are AWOL from their jobs in the federal government. I got mad because I am working and paying my income taxes for this!
The release from the Senator's office stated that since 2001, 18 federal departments reported that employees have been absent without leave (awol) for almost 20 million hours. The hours involved have increased from 2.5 in 2001 to 3.5 million in 2007. (This is clearly a bipartisan problem under a Republican President and Democratic controlled Congress.)
Senator Coburn does his James Stewart imitation in anger too by saying, "These findings are an insult to the American taxpayer and should be of a great concern to the agencies included and members of Congress."
What really irks me is that the two biggest violators are the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Treasury Department (the folks who collect our taxes.) These two departments accounted for 61 percent of all AWOL hours between 2001 and 2007. To put it another way, VA employees were 19 times more likely to go AWOL than Department of Defense ones. This is really comforting for someone, like me, who really feels for our veterans.
If you go onto the VA website, you can pull up a 230-page Directive (5011) about working hours and etc. Page three says that "all employees are expected to be on duty during the full period of their tours unless absence on approved leave." Sounds like the administrators of the VA need to re-read the manual and begin acting on their problem, which is now our problem.
Senator Coburn put it in perspective when he said in his release, "No private company would put up with its employees refusing to show up for work, let alone watch the problem grow year after year." Amen, Senator.
Are you listening Senators Feinstein, Boxer, Obama and McCain?
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