Welles: Look ahead: 2007

Union leaders hope a Democratic Congress will translate into gains for federal employees.

The midterm elections put fed-friendly members of Congress in critical positions that may benefit employees and retirees in 2007. Leading advocates for federal workers are hopeful, but cautious. Statements by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the new House majority leader, may be a harbinger of change. He has denounced the Bush administration’s pay-for-performance system because he said it limits government employee rights and protections. Hoyer also said he will “continue to fight to roll back the misguided A-76 competitive outsourcing initiatives.”  Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, wrote in an e-mail message that “NTEU welcomes the opportunity for Congress to closely examine key administration goals that are negatively impacting the federal workforce and America’s taxpayers.” The union’s concerns include “ending runaway contracting out and leveling the playing field for federal workers in job competitions.” For example, NTEU would like to see an end to the outsourcing of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax collection work. The union is also pressing the IRS to restore employee levels and encouraging the Homeland Security Department to give law enforcement officer status to Customs and Border Patrol agents. "The midterm vote is a clear mandate for the government to do a much better job of taking care of taxpayers’ money,” Kelley wrote. “One vital way to do that is to improve oversight of government contractors and to keep inherently government work — like collecting taxes — in the hands of federal employees.” NTEU also plans to work with Congress to address DHS’ staffing needs and ensure collective bargaining and employee rights at DHS and throughout government. “It is my hope that the new congressional leadership will encourage a return to more cooperative labor/management relationships,” she added.Judy Park, legislative director at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said the organization is looking forward to working with the new Congress, but is going into it realistically.  “The deficit is not going to disappear, the war is not over, and natural  disasters still may occur,” she said. “There will be constraints. So we are going in the new year with eyes wide open.” “Many of the same roadblocks are still there, particularly on new benefits,” Park added. “We will do what we can to prevent pullbacks or reductions.” The association will again seek health care cost relief for retirees through premium conversion, a benefit already available to federal employees. Despite bipartisan support, a reform bill has not reached  Congress for a vote.  The association also seeks to reform the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Program, which reduce Social Security benefits for federal workers who retire under the Civil Service Retirement System. Congress could consider changing those programs if private accounts legislation emerges again. The present formula’s effect on women with shorter careers or who are spousal survivors is especially egregious. Finally, telework will still be on everyone’s agenda in preparation for a possible pandemic or to gain office space savings. We can also expect to see more training to help managers become telework-sensitive. As always, change remains to be seen. .

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com