Dear, We Never Talk Anymore!

And although they've only been partners for a short time, unions that represent workers of the Department of Homeland Security are complaining that communications, which weren't all that hot in the beginning, have gotten worse. As in virtually nonexistent.

DHS unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, believe DHS brass are acting like the Lone Ranger without even the advice and counsel of Tonto.

DHS officials, in private, often feel the unions are intentionally creating problems where none exist, or don't get, or don't like, the rapid response goals of the new department.

Last week the unions charged that the DHS broke off discussions over a package of labor-management items that had been put together by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

In the history of labor-management, both sides can get awfully silly, or nasty or vicious, sometimes over some rather trivial points. Years ago a supervisor punched out a union official after learning that, at a union meeting, some members played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey using a photo of the federal official in lieu of a jackass. Not too long ago a union official filed a formal grievance, which resulted in a series of hearings, because a management official didn't speak when they passed in the halls.

Sometimes the stakes are larger. Officials at DHS, and the Defense Department, have complained that existing civil service rules make it difficult to quickly deploy people to hot spots. Unions believe that both giant departments, using the war on terrorism as cover, are seeking much tighter control. They contend that both departments want to setup systems, covering labor-management, pay for performance and in basic working conditions, that resemble "take it or take a hike" private firms.

Members of Congress are divided over the new look of federal agencies, not just DHS and DoD. A large number, mostly, but not exclusively Republicans, favor changes that will streamline, in their minds, the government by updating half century old rules to meet new challenges. But others, mostly but not exclusively Democrats, want a bigger role for unions and a go-slow approach to expanding things, like pay-for-performance, to other agencies.


After decades of suffering fallout from Watergate, the distrust of anything the government said or did, Americans seem to be more comfortable with Uncle Sam. The Partnership for Public Service last week issued a detailed report. Among other things it showed that in 2002 more than 60 percent of respondents said they trusted the government to do, or attempt to do, the right thing. That compares to a trust rating of only 21 percent in 1994.

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