Some Federal Agencies Aren't Fulfilling Biden's Promise to Give Time Off to Vote

A sign sits outside of an early voting location at the Stafford County Government Center in Virginia on Nov. 3.

A sign sits outside of an early voting location at the Stafford County Government Center in Virginia on Nov. 3. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Agencies are exploiting loopholes or issuing restrictive policies, confounding staff.

Several agencies are ignoring or putting tight restrictions on the Biden administration’s directive to provide extra time off for employees to vote or work at the polls, according to dozens of workers, the union representing them and internal policies reviewed by Government Executive

President Biden in March 2021 signed an executive order telling agencies they should provide 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 personnel and the American Federation of Government Employees, front-line supervisors at a slew of offices are outright rejecting most requests for the time off. 

Jacque Simon, policy director at AFGE, said in federal offices across the country managers have disapproved of the administrative leave without explanation or even issued blanket denials to all requests. Employees reported trying to engage with leadership to discuss Biden’s order and subsequent Office of Personnel Management guidance implementing it, but have largely been rebuffed.  

OPM told agencies they "should" allow employees to take the leave, providing some leeway as it did not say they must do so. The time off is “subject to a determination by the agency that the employee can be relieved of duty during the specific period of time requested by the employee without significantly impairing mission-essential operations,” OPM said. 

Still, agencies appear to be taking a more restrictive approach than set by the administration. The Government Publishing Office, for example—which employees had flagged as rejecting requests—provided its election leave policy, which included significant conditions for approval not included in the EO or OPM’s guidance. GPO, as a legislative branch agency, was not technically subject to Biden’s order, but Simon noted it reflected a similar approach that many agencies have taken. 

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

Other agencies that employees flagged as non-receptive to leave-for-voting requests included the Veterans Affairs Department, Transportation Security Administration, Social Security Administration and Defense Department. Carter Langston, a TSA spokesman, said individual facilities could reject requests if there are concerns about too many employees taking off. Ensuring adequate staffing at any given time, he said, is “job number one.” 

“TSA provides its workforce with leave 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. TSA encourages employees to vote and exercise their right to do so.”

VA’s policy instructed supervisors they “shall” grant the leave, subject to the needs of the agency. It stressed that employees must seek approval prior to taking the leave so as to not 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 direct supervisors to allow all employees time for voting and volunteering to work polls, as written in VA and OPM policies.” He did not directly address allegations that VA supervisors were not living up to that direction. 

OPM directed agencies to proactively inform all employees of their eligibility for the administrative leave, which TSA did last month in a staff-wide email. Many employees, however, said such notifications were not taking place. 

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

“They’ve got this loophole that they are exploiting, which is unfortunate,” Simon said. She added many states have required the time off for voting and the government was being comparatively restrictive. “Instead of encouraging people to vote, it is putting up obstacles.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.