Is golf a religious experience?

Golf course flag and Episcopal church

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Here's a question as we head into the weekend: Is golf a religious experience? Some civil servants seem to think so...

The Washington Post reports today today some federal workers have been taking undue advantage of a little known benefit program called religious comp-time. Marketplace's Steve Henn explains.


STEVE HENN: For years several high-ranking civilian employees at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center took comp-time intended for religious observances and used it to go golfing. One employee saved up enough religious comp-time to take a vacation to Europe. And this dodge is not unique to the Navy.

REP. BART STUPAK: I hope they go to confession.

Congressman Bart Stupak heads up a House subcommittee looking into the issue at the Food and Drug Adminstration.

REP. STUPAK: What we are finding is at the FDA and elsewhere, these people are racking up hundreds of hours of religious time, and they don't take it.

Instead, when they switch jobs or retire, they receive big fat checks for their unused comp-time.

REP. STUPAK: That's fraud. It's a fraud. It's criminal. It's a crime. It's stealing.

Professor Harvey M. Sapolsky at MIT has been tracking tales of abuse at the Undersea Warfare Center for years.

HARVEY SAPOLSKY: I can see where it starts -- they can't interfere with religion. So if people claim a religious day, they are not going to do anything but let them take it. And then it's open to abuse, because the system doesn't allow a lot of scrutiny of these kinds of things.

After all, religious holidays are, well, sacred. Nonetheless, the problems at the Navy earned a mention in the Defense Department's Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure back in 2002. But that wasn't quite enough to spark wide-spread reforms.

Officials at the Office of Personnel Management admit there's no government-wide system that tracks how religious comp-time is being used, and they say creating one isn't a priority. I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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