Passengers trying to escape a sleeper car on the derailed train couldn't get the emergency window to open. The handle didn't work. Perhaps, Healing said, the bolts holding the handle in place were too small. Whatever the reason for the failure, Healing wanted that concern emphasized in the board's final report.
Healing's last day at the board was July 29, a year and a half before his term expires. His resignation leaves the board -- which investigates the causes of most major aviation, rail, marine, and other transportation accidents -- without a member who has a background in engineering or aviation. The lack of such expertise worries transportation safety advocates, who fear that the NTSB's effectiveness will drop. Healing's departure also comes amid some internal turmoil at the board that has employee representatives warning that morale has sunk to a new low.
The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating transportation accidents and then issuing recommendations on preventing future accidents. The agency has 400 career employees, including investigators and engineers, whose job is to determine the causes of accidents through on-site investigation and data analysis. The technical staff reports its findings to a five-member board, which decides on the final recommendations. "The NTSB is the leading international transportation accident investigation board in the world," said former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, now a private transportation consultant. "It has an outstanding reputation worldwide."
The five members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to five-year terms. From among the five, the president nominates board members to serve two-year terms as chairman and vice chairman. With President Bush in the White House, three seats on the board are slated for Republicans and two for Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sends Democratic recommendations for the board to the White House.
With Republican Healing's departure, the board has one Republican and one Democratic vacancy. The Democratic seat has been vacant since board member Carol Carmody left at the end of her five-year term in April. The remaining members are Republicans Ellen Engleman Conners and Mark Rosenker and Democrat Deborah Hersman. In March, Bush renominated Engleman Conners as board chairman and Rosenker as vice chairman, but the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has not yet taken up their nominations. In the meantime, under the rules of the board, Rosenker serves as acting chairman and Engleman Conners remains a regular board member.
None of the remaining three members has a background in aviation or engineering. Engleman Conners has a law degree and previously served as an administrator at the Transportation Department. Rosenker has worked mostly in public affairs, and Hersman was a Democratic congressional staffer.
Worries about the lack of engineering or aviation experience began to bubble up when John Goglia, an engineer who held an FAA aircraft mechanic's certificate, resigned from the board last year. Goglia expressed concern that only one member, Healing, remained with an engineering background. Healing is a licensed professional engineer who worked on aviation safety issues for the Navy before his NTSB appointment. "Most of the accidents -- probably all of them -- involve technical issues," Goglia said.
Goglia pointed out a line in the law governing NTSB's operations that says, "At least three members shall be appointed on the basis of technical qualification, professional standing, and demonstrated knowledge in accident reconstruction, safety engineering, human factors, transportation safety, or transportation regulation."
Lauren Peduzzi, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, said that the agency has staff experts in various engineering disciplines and in all forms of transportation. "It is for the president and Congress to select and approve board members," she said.
With Carmody's departure this spring, several engineering groups have been pushing for a replacement with a technical background. The International Society for Safety Investigators, a group based in Sterling, Va., sent a letter to senators urging that they support candidates with "a degree of technical skill."
The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest union for commercial airline pilots, has been the most active group on the issue. It's backing a specific candidate, Paul McCarthy, who retired last year after 31 years as a Delta Air Lines pilot. McCarthy has also been a safety representative for the union for 30 years. The association's pick has been formally backed by 32 House Republicans -- including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska -- and ranking panel member James Oberstar, D-Minn., all of whom have sent letters to the White House supporting McCarthy. Because McCarthy is from Marblehead, Mass., the 10 members of the Massachusetts delegation in the House have also sent a letter to the White House, as has Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
But Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is backing a former staffer, Kathryn (Kitty) Higgins, for the job. Higgins worked in the Clinton White House and was deputy Labor secretary during the Clinton administration. She holds a degree in education from the University of Nebraska. Higgins is also a friend of aviation lobbyist Linda Daschle, wife of former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. The United Transportation Union, which represents mostly railroad workers, supports Higgins's candidacy.
Reid is backing Higgins for the job, but so far the White House has steered clear of the dispute. The renominations of Engleman Conners as chairman and Rosenker as vice chairman have been on hold amid the debate over the Democratic nominee. Now a Republican replacement for Healing will also have to be picked.
Hall, who was NTSB chairman from 1993 to 2001, said that the board needs members with technical backgrounds. "It's in statute," he said. "It's a law." Hall also noted that most of the board's work is related to air accidents. "It's particularly important to have members who are versed in aviation," he said.
Tony Jobe, a Louisiana-based lawyer who works with the board, said that an engineering background isn't necessarily a prerequisite for a good board member. Members need to be inquisitive, open-minded, and able to manage and lead the agency's technical staff. "What they really need to have is a wide range of experience," Jobe said. "It's always ideal and optimum if they have people from various disciplines."
Meanwhile, Paula Sind-Prunier, vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2211, which represents NTSB employees, called morale at the agency "lower than low." An Office of Personnel Management survey last year of the agency's workforce found that 39 percent of employees had an unfavorable opinion of the NTSB's senior leaders. Government-wide, 26 percent of employees were critical of their senior leaders. NTSB employees, compared with employees in other agencies, also gave the agency's leadership low marks on motivating employees, on setting high standards of honesty and integrity, and on communicating with employees. "There is no communication going on between agency management, midlevel management, and employees," Sind-Prunier said.
There has been tension among the board members as well. The Republican Healing and Democrats Hersman and Carmody complained in a letter last August to Engleman Conners that they were being left out of management decisions. In a follow-up letter a month later, the three members told Engleman Conners that "as evidenced by the fact that we are forced to communicate with you by letter, we have not found your 'open-door' policy to be effective, since you have not been available to meet with us over the course of the last month." While Healing's publicly stated reason for leaving the board early is that he wants to spend time with his family, several observers said that the tensions between Healing and Engleman Conners were a contributing factor.
Despite the controversies, transportation accident rates are at all-time lows. A major commercial airline crash hasn't occurred in three years. That may, in part, explain why the NTSB is issuing fewer recommendations than at any time since 1970. In addition, NTSB spokeswoman Peduzzi said that the board has changed its recommendations' philosophy. "We are now focusing on issuing the 'must-have' recommendations, rather than the 'nice to have,' " Peduzzi said.
Still, some worry about that approach. Goglia, the former member, said he's concerned that a political desire to show safety improvements is driving the reduction in new recommendations. An outside aviation safety expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he thought that the reductions were designed "not necessarily to improve safety, but just to get the numbers down."
Others see the reductions as a major accomplishment. "Chairman Engleman Conners and the current board have really worked hard to implement safety recommendations that were never acted on," Jobe said. "They've reduced the docket on the open safety recommendations tremendously. There's never been a board I know of that's accomplished so much."
Simon: No easy answers
DOD's personnel system seems to come from a know-it-all vision
By Jacqueline Simon
Published on Aug. 1, 2005
If 17 years of working on behalf of federal employees has taught me anything, it is that no individual should try to describe the perfect personnel system. Nobody has all the answers. That's why the only good answer to the question of what the best personnel system would look like is this: It would emerge from a process of collective bargaining and contain the wisdom of workers and managers.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Defense Department's civilian workers have been justifiably proud of the crucial role they play in maintaining the United States' position as the world's preeminent power. It is ironic, however, that Pentagon officials now seem to have embraced the authoritarianism and state planning associated with the old Soviet society.
DOD's National Security Personnel System (NSPS) has a lot in common with that know-it-all vision. NSPS is inefficient, inflexible, authoritarian and anti-democratic — just like the old Soviet system. In contrast, personnel systems that emerge from collective bargaining are efficient, flexible, democratic and modern.
DOD officials seem oblivious to the fact that it is far more efficient to give workers one set of rules than to discriminate by setting up what amounts to a separate set of rules for each employee.
Flexibility in workforce matters is a two-way street. Nobody who feels bossed around, cheated and disrespected can be flexible. Modern management theory recognizes that the most successful enterprises value input from the workforce. Successful organizations don't suppress it.
Nothing can be created through collective bargaining that doesn't have the support of workers and managers. This point seems lost on many opponents of bargaining, but it bears repeating. Personnel systems created through negotiations allow managers to accomplish their objectives, which is to have employees complete their assignments efficiently and proficiently.
What do federal workers want from collective bargaining? In general, they want to be treated fairly. They want schedules, assignments and opportunities for training and promotion to be distributed according to objective criteria.
Federal employees desire a safe and healthy workplace. They want reasonable accommodations for family obligations, religious principles, and physical and mental abilities. They want a say in the speed and quality standards of their work.
Workers have as great a stake as managers in the success of the enterprise that employs them. They want to be treated like honest, conscientious adults. They want fair compensation that ensures their economic security and doesn't make them feel exploited.
Most importantly, they want all this in a legally enforceable contract, so they can count on it and have their day in court if it is violated.
That's what a good personnel system would look like.
Simon is public policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing 600,000 federal government employees nationwide and abroad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial: People power
BY Chris Dorobek
Published on Aug. 1, 2005
Life for federal workers has changed dramatically. Once a more comfortable, laid-back environment when compared with private-sector jobs, feds now find that they must fight for and justify their jobs.
In recent decades, change has become more rapid for federal workers. And the Internet Age has quickened the pace.
More change is on the horizon. The federal workforce is graying, and many employees are expected to leave the government during the next five years.
In Federal Computer Week's July 25 issue, we published the results of a survey of federal information technology workers. It provides some insights about the best and worst agencies for IT workers. Beyond that, the survey shows what keeps feds satisfied and what makes them dissatisfied.
FCW asked several experts to advise agencies on how to recruit and retain top-notch employees.
In the pages that follow, they offer their assessments.
• Harold Gray, director of the Center for Professional Development at Howard University's School of Business, suggests ways the government can attract younger IT workers to the workforce.
• Janet Barnes, deputy associate director of the Center for Information Services and chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management, writes about the advantages of hiring young, energetic IT workers.
• Marcia Marsh, vice president of government transformation at the Partnership for Public Service, looks at empowering human resources employees.
• Jacqueline Simon, public policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, discusses the potential pitfalls of new personnel systems at the Homeland Security and Defense departments.
• And W. Frederick Thompson, vice president of management and technology at the Council for Excellence in Government, reflects on the differences between the public and private sectors.
— Christopher J. Dorobek
Gods and Mortals
The AFL-CIO's split may impact smaller state and local federations the most
By David Moberg July 31, 2005
Chicago--The decision by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Teamsters to leave the AFL-CIO-and the resultant loss of 2.6 million members and $18 million in dues-overshadowed the 50th anniversary convention of the AFL-in late July. Yet despite the potential impact of these large unions' departure on national politics and the federation itself, one of the main repercussions of the split involves an oft-neglected, even little-known part of the labor movement: its state and local organizations.
These federations of labor and central labor councils (CLC), the rough equivalent of the AFL-CIO at state, municipal or regional levels, have often been sleepy bywaters of the labor movement. But starting even before John Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO a decade ago, and accelerating under his regime, many of these CLCs and some of the state feds have grown much more active. They've become political powerhouses, important players in economic development, and centers for building real solidarity among local unions and their members across union lines.
Now, many of these groups will be hard-hit, not only losing much of their limited financing, but more importantly, disrupting their newly forged solidarity. "The immediate impact [of the split] will be felt by the state feds and the central labor councils," said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president Bill George. Raising his hands high above his head, he added, "The impact isn't up here where the gods are fighting."
The mere mortals of the labor movement were not only trying to figure out how to cope with the gods' conflict, but were virtually reduced to reading chicken entrails to figure out what it all meant. The AFL-CIO constitution prohibits local-level memberships for unions that are not nationally affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The head of a small, 1,300-member CLC in North Worcester, Mass., Brian Sabourin said his local group would be virtually wiped out if the United Food and Commercial Workers-one member of the SEIU-led Change to Win Coalition-left the AFL-CIO.
Sabourin, a member of UFCW like six of the nine CLC board members, would have to quit his job as president. Many other state federation and CLC leaders are choosing to keep their local AFL-CIO posts and finding a new union to join, just as AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, former president of SEIU, recently joined the Office and Professional Employees to keep his job.
Sabourin was hoping against hope that the AFL-CIO would make it possible for him to keep his CLC job, "because that's where all the action is," and he didn't approve of UFCW's seemingly imminent decision to leave the AFL-CIO. Did he understand why it was happening? "No," he said flatly. It was a common sentiment among CLC leaders. "It's over my head," said Connie Beissel, president of a small Minnesota CLC, of the split. "I do not understand it one bit."
This is a reflection of the way the debate over the future of the labor movement has played out. "The worst thing about what's happening is everything is from the top down, not the bottom up," said Gene Davenport, a longshoreman and CLC board member from Stockton, Calif., who said that his CLC president, a member of SEIU, "was adamantly against what SEIU did."
Also, even though Stern started the debate ostensibly about direction of the labor movement and not its leadership, in the end the final division was over Change to Win unions' demands for Sweeney to leave or, at the very least, make assurances that someone from their camp, not incumbent secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka, would be his successor. Although at one level the debate was about increased organizing, other than SEIU, several of the Change to Win unions have a spotty record in organizing and have not grown or have even lost members recently. At the same time, some remaining AFL-CIO unions have grown significantly (though many are neither organizing nor doing anything else very effectively).
And while Change to Win supporters sometimes posed the as a choice between politics and organizing, both sides argued that labor has to do both, and both agreed in principle that labor should be politically independent and bipartisan. But the details of debate on structural changes that the Change to Win unions saw as fundamental and that the AFL-CIO thought had been addressed through compromise proposals seemed beyond the grasp of even many union activists and leaders.
Solidarity is the watchword of the labor movement, and it was invoked repeatedly during the week, like a prayerful mantra to heal the rupture, as many union leaders from top to bottom of the labor movement attempted to minimize the break, retain ties, prevent open conflicts and keep alive the possibility of reuniting. "Our door should always be open," Electrical Workers president Ed Hill told the convention. "My plea will always be for solidarity. There are no great principles dividing us."
When SEIU and the Teamsters left, their presidents, Andy Stern and Jim Hoffa, offered to continue participation in the central labor councils and state federations. This may have been a genuine measure in part, but it was also a move that shifted the onus of breaking up those lower level bodies to Sweeney.
SEIU's departure will be a big loss, especially on the west coast, because it was active in politically potent and innovative state and local organizations. But the pledge from the Teamsters rang hollow: Nationally, it has affiliated only about 11 percent of its membership to state federations, and its participation in CLCs is similarly low.
But for all of the expressions of concern about CLCs and state feds, the sorry fact is that only about half of the nation's union membership have been dues-paying participants in these organizations. Only AFSCME, the Teachers, the Steelworkers, AFGE (federal employees), Communications Workers, and Painters are fully paid up.
In response to the deals and partnerships the disaffiliated unions wanted to arrange to stay in central labor councils, Sweeney told the convention, "This presents a direct challenge to the principles of unity and solidarity upon which our movement is built, and upon which it depends. They can't have it both ways. We are one, integrated democratic labor movement, at the national, state and local level. We must reject the 'free rider' approach of the disaffiliated unions, who want to pick and choose the places where they affiliate and dictate the terms."
But that's precisely what unions have been doing all along with regard to the state and local organizations. At the same time, the Change to Win unions, which derided the voluntary nature of the AFL-CIO, were exploiting that voluntary nature by leaving, rather than staying in and fighting over the direction. Neither side has a monopoly on either good ideas or glaring contradictions.
In the end, many CLCs in particular are going to do everything they can to abide by the letter of the AFL-CIO constitution but also by the spirit of solidarity, either through informal relationships, creation of new coalitions, or working through other public policy, political or campaign organizations.
"The form that it will take will be different in different places," said John Goldstein, leader of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, which has long worked closely with unions, like the United Electrical Workers, outside of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is not likely to expend much energy making sure that the disaffiliated unions don't participate, but some active unions-like AFSCME, CWA and the Teachers-may be the enforcers.
At one point, the AFL-CIO was considering giving the Executive Council "extraordinary powers" to suspend the constitution, "to address extraordinary circumstances arising from either disaffiliations from the AFL-CIO or from actions by affiliated or unaffiliated unions that impair the ability of the AFL-CIO to fulfill its objects and principles." Although it was unclear what was intended, both Sweeney and Trumka implied that such powers might involve altering the constitution to permit disaffiliated unions to participate in local labor organizations. The proposal was ultimately dropped, partly because it sounded too much like George Bush's Patriot Act or martial law, McEntee said.
But the Executive Council is still likely to consider a proposal that would allow locals of any unions that leave the AFL-CIO to participate in state and local labor bodies if they also directly affiliate with the AFL-CIO nationally by joining as a local. Once quite common, this option has usually been exercised only by locals that aren't part of any national union.
In the end, part of a four-cent hike in the dues that unions pay the AFL-CIO will be funneled into a fund that will help hard-pressed federations and CLCs, and there will also be a renewed campaign to encourage all unions to fully pay into those organizations, a move that would solve most of their immediate financial crises.
As Jeff Crosby, a CWA local president and president of a Massachusetts central labor council, argued, "Solidarity is a human relationship. We have to work together. It isn't just a financial issue. I believe we can maintain a relation with our SEIU local that may have done more than any other in the CLC. I love those people. I'll do whatever to maintain that relationship." Still, he fears an outbreak of intra-union conflicts, like raiding each other for members, could rupture even those long-established ties.
So far, the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions remain more on a common path than the split would indicate. The convention adopted changes in AFL-CIO structure-creating the possibility of industry committees to guide organizing, providing rebates for organizing, establishing a new Executive Committee to guide the federation-that reflected Change to Win sentiments, even if they did not satisfy their demands. The AFL-CIO committed itself to a campaign to fight Wal-Mart, even though SEIU and the UFCW were the main unions potentially organizing those workers. Union leaders from both sides of the split signed a letter threatening to cut off funds to Democrats in the House who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
The federation also took what was a bold step on foreign policy, given its long history of identifying with whatever administration is in power on military and foreign policy issues. It passed a resolution strongly critical of the Bush administration for lying about Iraq, for its conduct of the war, for its failure to properly take care of both soldiers and veterans, and for its failure to protect rights of workers and unions in occupied Iraq. Most significantly, it called for the United States to withdraw from Iraq "rapidly," which was taken by its proponents as the functional equivalent of "immediately."
It will take many months, at least, to sort out the repercussions of the split, which could either stimulate both camps to work harder on both organizing and politics or degenerate into debilitating conflict. The central labor councils and state federations, long neglected during the years of unity, may now suffer most in times of division. But their leaders are going to try not only to survive, but to meet new benchmarks for performance that the federation set and, as Jesse Jackson urged the convention, to keep their "eyes on the real prize."
As Cleveland Federation of Labor executive secretary John Ryan said, "We're not going to let our internal strife stop our struggle for social justice."
Pentagon officials collect employee input on personnel overhaul
By Karen Rutzick
Defense Department officials Thursday concluded an employee survey that identifies performance factors that could be used to determine pay for workers under its new personnel system.
The National Security Personnel System is the Pentagon's planned personnel overhaul, and is set to include a performance-based pay system.
In a memo to its civilian employees, Navy Secretary Gordon England, who is heading up the NSPS effort, encouraged them to participate in the performance-factor survey while it was open.
"A cornerstone of NSPS is a new performance management system that will foster a performance-oriented environment that more fully rewards and recognizes performance and contributions," he wrote.
England added that the Pentagon has identified from focus "several performance factors for possible inclusion in the new system." This survey was meant to "ensure that these performance factors are relevant and reflect work that you personally perform on your job."
The factors under consideration are technical competence, cooperation and teamwork, critical thinking, communication, customer focus, achieving results, resource management, leadership and supervision, NSPS spokeswoman Joyce Frank said.
NSPS officials made the survey available to the entire group of eligible General Schedule and demonstration project employees, rather than a statistical sample. Frank said almost 70,000 of the 517,000 eligible employees completed the survey.
According to the Pentagon, its next step is to evaluate the information gleaned from the survey about the relevance of these performance factors. The results will aid NSPS officials in determining how to rate employee performance, and will be released publicly after their completion.
The survey was announced June 30 and was accessible to employees beginning July 6.
The survey was voluntary and individual information is confidential.
Melinda Darby, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army civilian personnel, notified employees that survey results would be used to decide which "work behaviors are sufficiently important to be included as rating elements in the performance management system."
The Government Accountability Office recently published a report that found Pentagon officials did not gather enough employee input in initially developing NSPS. The auditors said that omission could hinder employees' acceptance of the system once it is implemented.
"A successful transformation must provide for meaningful involvement by employees and their representatives to gain their input into and understanding of the changes that will occur," the report stated.
NSPS was originally slated for rollout on July 1, but Pentagon officials delayed that move following meet-and-confer talks with union officials earlier this year.
The personnel reform proposal should be finalized by the fall, according to Frank. She also said that federal wage system and other groups not included will be asked to participate in a similar effort later on.
Long, Hard Road From Here To Performance-Based Pay
By Stephen Barr
Sunday, July 31, 2005; C02
At a recent panel discussion on the Pentagon's plan to jettison current pay practices and set up a pay-for-performance system, the first questioner noted that the changes would give added responsibilities to managers and asked whether managers would get extra compensation for the extra work.
The three-person panel did not answer the question directly but agreed that "change is hard," as one Defense Department official put it.
The government is just beginning to grapple with what kind of change it plans to impose on managers and employees as it shifts from the decades-old General Schedule, which provides predictable pay raises, to more dynamic systems, in which raises hinge on national and labor market trends for key occupations and the job ratings of employees.
The change will take place on a monumental scale. The Defense and Homeland Security departments, which are marching forward on new pay plans, employ about 850,000 people. They would be followed by about 1 million additional federal employees, if the Bush administration wins the support of Congress for a government-wide overhaul.
The change will require new thinking on how to set standards, measure performance and compare federal workers with their private-sector counterparts. Administering such a system will require sustained funding, a problem that has hampered efforts to systematically provide geographic-based pay adjustments in the GS system. That approach also has been faulted by administration officials, who contend it overpays some federal employees and underpays others.
The change will challenge officials to show that pay raises are fair and untainted by politics. A symposium organized by David M. Walker , head of the Government Accountability Office, highlighted the fairness issue and other challenges facing agencies.
As one of its examples, the GAO report on the symposium summarized practices at a major employer, IBM, and how the corporation handles pay decisions for 300,000 employees worldwide. In terms of staff, IBM is larger than Homeland Security (166,000) and smaller than Defense (700,000 civilians).
IBM's offices in North America provide employees with an annual summary statement that shows where each fits on the pay scale and relative to market rates, the employee's performance rating and any pay increase, according to the report.
Before awarding pay increases, IBM's first-line managers work up proposed raises for the employees they supervise. The managers discuss their proposals with other first-line managers and up-line managers for consistency across work groups. Up-line managers, the GAO report said, may shift pay allocations across groups "to ensure employees who perform similarly are compensated the same regardless of their first-line managers."
As a final check, senior managers sign off on the pay decisions for each employee.
IBM also conducts a "base pay equity analysis" to review the salaries of women and minorities and look for cases that are not in line with the majority of pay decisions, the GAO said.
The company provides managers with salary planning software to identify the factors used in determining pay increases for each employee. IBM also permits employees to appeal pay decisions up the corporate ladder if they feel they are not being treated fairly, the GAO said.
Any organization's change to performance pay "is a huge undertaking," Walker said in an introduction to the GAO report. "How it is done, when it is done, and the basis on which it is done can make all the difference in their success," he wrote.
If Congress approves an overhaul of federal pay, it will be vital that agencies define job expectations with some precision rather than use a vague standard, such as saying employees will be rated based on their "contributions," said Colleen M. Kelley , who deals with agencies on pay issues as president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Job ratings that are not seen as fair usually lead employees to file grievances, she said.
Setting up pay-for-performance systems "is very hard work," Kelley said.