Lawmakers blast Space Force proposal as ‘alarming’ attack on worker rights

Categories: DoD, The Insider

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress are echoing AFGE’s concerns about the administration’s proposal to create a sixth military branch, the U.S. Space Force.

During a Senate hearing on April 11, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were skeptical about the need for a new branch and raised numerous questions about the proposal and its impact on the workforce.

The legislative proposal submitted as part of the president’s fiscal 2020 budget would exempt Space Force civilian workers from Title 5 rules and protections, including collective bargaining rights and whistleblower protections. Current Department of Defense employees could be involuntarily transferred to the new department, stripping them of their existing rights in the process. Employees could be hired or fired at will without any appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board or another third party.

“It would create an alarming precedent, I think, that potentially could erode the merit-based civil service within the Pentagon and eliminate the rights of Space Force employees to participate in collective bargaining, for example,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said while questioning Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

Ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) shared Blumenthal’s concerns about the loss of workplace rights. He also questioned the “top-heavy bureaucracy” called for in the administration’s proposal. Roughly 1,000 of the department’s 16,500 employees would be headquarters staff, including two four-star generals and a separate undersecretary. By comparison, the Marine Corps has 1,200 headquarters staff serving a workforce of 246,000 and does not have a separate undersecretary.

“What you will create is a 1,000-person sort of overhead. That is the highest, you know, overhead-to-operation ratio within the military service by a great deal,” Reed said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) shared concerns that creating a new service would further degrade military readiness, which he said “plummeted” after the Pentagon’s budget was cut 25 percent during the first half of this decade.

Remarks from senators during the hearing echoed concerns that our union raised in a March 21 letter to the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services committees. The following week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) blasted the proposal.

“A large part of the proposal is an attack on the rights of Defense Department civilian employees. It asks for broad authority to waive long-standing and effective elements of civil service rules, pay rates, merit-based hiring, and senior civilian management practices,” Smith said.

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