Unions resisting federal reforms


"Bush has turned the government into America's No. 1 union buster," AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson said at a Washington press conference. But that's a stretch.
What has the unions in a tizzy is a Bush administration plan to de-emphasize the old "General Schedule" system, which sets pay scales according to what GS ranking a worker achieves, in favor of a merit and performance-based pay system that actually dares to differentiate between the motivated federal worker and the deadwood.
GS is a seniority-based system, rewarding longevity over performance, very much the way teachers are paid in the public school system. And higher GS ratings are handed out more or less mechanically, like merit badges minus the merit. The new system would infuse new life into a stagnant system by rewarding workers who excel. And that rankles the unions.
The new DoD system permits the paying of "performance shares" to employees who outperform peers and allows supervisors to pay bonuses to outstanding performers, to help bring some parity with private sector pay. The new guidelines also warn, correctly, that "inappropriate overuse of the bonus could result in morale, recruitment and retention problems."
The DoD and DHS are too important to be treated like every other hopeless bureaucratic backwater. If the agencies are going to compete with the private sector for the best and brightest, they need an updated arsenal of management tools. And the unions can't be allowed to drag them backward.
Union honchos fear that if these reforms can take hold in the federal government, they could spread elsewhere.
"We know that if it happens to us, state and local governments will be next," American Federation of Government Employees president John Gage observed.
And wouldn't that be wonderful.

http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2005/12/12/news/local/news03.txt

Used cell phones help soldiers
By Celeste Calvitto, Journal Staff Writer
An organization of federal employees is teaming up with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help soldiers stay in touch with their families and hopes that the holidays will inspire donations.
The organization is sponsoring a program that trades used cell phones for cash to pay for pre-paid calling cards for use by soldiers in combat zones.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to show our support for our troops serving in combat zones,” said Patrick Russell, president of VA Council 259, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1539 in Hot Springs.
Irma Fees, a medical technologist at the Veterans Affaris Medical Center in Hot Springs, has two sons who are on active duty as Navy divers.
“It’s for a good cause,” Fees said of the cell-phone program. “It’s important to be able to keep in contact with family back home, and it is a nice way that we can show appreciation.”
Since the program began in August, AFGE has sponsored drop-off sites at VA medical centers and clinics throughout the country, including Hot Springs and Fort Meade. Russell has lined up several other locations in the area where people can donate cell phones with attached batteries. Phones will be collected through Jan. 6.
“This Christmas, many people will be giving or receiving cell phones as presents. Put those old phones to use for helping our troops,” Russell said. “And many thanks to the businesses that have agreed to help us in this worthy cause.”
Rapid City drop-off locations include:
n Ensignal, 1301 W. Omaha St. #119
n Safeway, 730 Mountain View Road
n Black Hills Health Care System clinic, 3525 5th St.
n U.S. Navy Recruiting Center, Rushmore Mall
n Rapid City Journal, 507 Main St.
Russell is looking for additional locations to serve as drop-off points. He can be called at 745-2080.
The program is an offshoot of a Massachusetts-based initiative, according to a news release from Russell. The program was started by two teenagers in 2004. It has raised more than $250,000 and sent more than 50,000 prepaid calling cards to U.S. troops.

http://www.themonitor.com/SiteProcessor.cfm?Template=/GlobalTemplates/Details.cfm&StoryID=10569&Section=Opinion

Labor Unions Upset
December 12, 2005
The Monitor View
Government proposes merit-based pay system against federal groups’ wishes
Americans are almost unanimous in carping about big, wasteful, unresponsive government. Yet almost every effort to improve the way federal agencies function comes to naught, due in part to resistance from government employee labor unions.
The unions were out in force again this week, protesting proposed changes in personnel and pay systems at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. "Bush has turned the government into America’s number one union buster," AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson said at a Washington press conference. But that’s a stretch.
What has the unions in a tizzy is a Bush administration plan to de-emphasize the old "General Schedule" system, which sets pay scales according to what GS ranking a worker achieves, in favor of a merit and performance-based pay system that actually dares to differentiate between the motivated federal worker and the deadwood.
GS is a seniority-based system, rewarding longevity over performance, very much the way teachers are paid in the public school system. And higher GS ratings are handed out more or less mechanically, like merit badges minus the merit. The new system would infuse new life into a stagnant system by rewarding workers who excel. And that rankles the unions.
The new DoD system permits the paying of "performance shares" to employees who outperform peers and allows supervisors to pay bonuses to outstanding performers, to help bring some parity with private sector pay. The new guidelines also warn, correctly, that "inappropriate overuse of the bonus could result in morale, recruitment and retention problems."
The DoD and DHS are too important to be treated like every other hopeless bureaucratic backwater. If the agencies are going to compete with the private sector for the best and brightest, they need an updated arsenal of management tools. And the unions can’t be allowed to drag them backward.
Union honchos fear that if these reforms can take hold in the federal government, they could spread elsewhere. "We know that if it happens to us, state and local governments will be next," American Federation of Government Employees president John Gage whined.
And wouldn’t that be wonderful.

http://www.heraldnet.com/stories/05/12/11/100loc_b1aaging001.cfm

Conference on Aging rules trouble local delegate
By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Writer
EVERETT - When the White House Conference on Aging begins today, Steve Kofahl of Everett will be among the 1,200 delegates in the nation's capital debating how Congress can better serve seniors.
He hopes substance trumps symbolism in the three-day gathering, from which dozens of policy recommendations for federal legislators and President Bush are awaiting action.
"This is a bit of a rare opportunity, and we want to make good use of it," he said.
The national conference is held every 10 years or so to focus on issues, policy and research in the field of aging. The first was in 1961 and the last was in 1995.
Past conferences are credited with helping establish Medicare and Medicaid, passing the Older Americans Act and creating a national nutrition program for seniors.
Participants come from every state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. Twenty-four Washington residents are taking part, appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a member of Congress or the National Congress of American Indians.
Kofahl is an employee of the Social Security Administration and president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3937. He was selected by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.
Kofahl is also one of six members of the Alliance for Retired Americans in the Washington delegation, a contingent that is disappointed with the wording in some of the 73 proposed resolutions.
"They're not what we hoped for," he said.
Kofahl said the resolutions are scrubbed of conflict with any of the president's goals.
Social Security is one of the major disappointments. The resolution that delegates will debate reads: "Establish principles to strengthen Social Security." The alliance sought specific wording opposing privatization.
"There was a resolution submitted to the White House opposing privatization, but it is not part of the package, so we'll have to raise the issue in a work group on Social Security," he said.
The new Medicare prescription drug program is another subject. Delegates will consider a measure promoting enrollment. Kofahl said problems encountered with the new program should be mentioned too, but are not.
Bill Holayter of Shelton, a delegate and alliance member, said that at past conferences on aging, new resolutions could be proposed with the support of 10 percent of the delegates. That rule is not in effect this time, though Washington's Alliance members will try to get it reinstated so they can put forth their suggestions.
"How can you hold the first aging conference in a decade and not allow for delegates to speak openly and candidly about issues of critical importance?" Holayter asked in a statement issued by the organization. "We won't be muzzled."
Secretary for Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta are among the scheduled speakers. President Bush is not scheduled to address the delegates.





http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=15713079&BRD=2318&PAG=461&dept_id=484045&rfi=6

A Pandora’s box
By Lisa Sorg

EPA’s proposed rule on pesticide testing on children is stirring an ethical controversy


Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency recruited for a pesticide study 60 infants and toddlers whose low-income parents were bringing them to Florida public-health clinics and hospitals. The two-year study was observational—no infants were to be intentionally dosed with pesticides—so EPA could determine how the babies absorbed chemicals already present in their households.
Yet, the Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study, known as CHEERS, was not so innocuous. EPA received $2.1 million from the American Chemistry Council to conduct the tests. According to David Christenson, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3607, which represents Region 8 EPA staff and scientists, the agency inventoried the households to discover the types of pesticides the parents were using, such as rat or roach bait; yet, even if those chemicals had been banned, EPA did not remove them. Instead, families who completed the study were to receive a T-shirt, a certificate of appreciation, $970, and a Camcorder, which they were to use to document their children’s behavior during the study. The families could keep the Camcorder.
Last April, EPA canceled CHEERS after Democratic senators threatened to uphold the confirmation of administrator-to-be Stephen Johnson, who had served as Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. But the controversy did not pass; rather, it started an incendiary debate in Congress and within the medical and bioethics fields about human testing, particularly on children and other vulnerable people.
As part of an appropriations bill, Congress in August required EPA to propose a rule governing pesticide testing on children and pregnant women. EPA is lauding its proposed rule, and contends it categorically bans intentional-dosing pesticide tests on these groups. But critics, including EPA scientists, doctors, members of Congress, and government watchdogs, argue the rule is compromised by loopholes and vague language that favor the pesticide industry, which has benefited from policies implemented during the Bush Administration. These exceptions, detractors say, would allow “third parties,” such as pesticide manufacturers, to test their products on children who are orphaned, neglected, or live in foreign countries if the research would provide a “public health benefit.” Nor does the proposed rule cover prisoners and people residing in state mental hospitals and other institutions. [See story, next page.]
EPA denies these loopholes exist; in response to a Baltimore Sun article critical of the proposed rule, Jim Jones, director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, wrote a letter to the editor, saying “to write that the EPA would single out some children as less deserving of health protection ... is outrageous and only serves as a sensational soundbite that misinforms the public.”
Critics remain unfazed by EPA’s contentions. Dr. Alan Lockwood is a professor of neurology and nuclear medicine at the University of Buffalo and chairman of the environmental and health committee of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “In this case, EPA is proposing a rule not sufficiently protective of human health and the environment,” says Lockwood, who last year published a journal article that showed six pesticide tests conducted on adults by third parties violated scientific and ethical principles. “And what’s worse, they’re creating the illusion the rule contains a prohibition.”


Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable to pesticides, many of which can affect brain and neural development. Scientific studies have shown that women who have been exposed to pesticides during pregnancy tend to have smaller babies. Compared to adults, children “eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air,” says Lockwood, adding that kids haven’t developed the enzymes necessary to metabolize pesticides.
William Jordan, EPA senior policy adviser in the Office of Pesticide Programs, says the criticisms are unfounded and inaccurate. The rule, he says, would prohibit any intentional pesticide dosing of neglected, abused, or mentally retarded children. If testers cant obtain parental consent, they must obtain approval from Independent Review Boards — often paid by the same companies who are funding the testing — to find someone else, such as a guardian or a state agency, to give consent.
Missing from the proposed rule is a provision covering testing on institutionalized populations, such as prisoners. While Department of Health and Human Services is considering rewriting its regulations for prisoners, EPA is asking for public comment on the issue. However, Jordan allowed that the ethics of testing prisoners is “tricky,” and that U.S. law states that researchers conducting tests on vulnerable populations “need to pay particular attention to informed consent.”




http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=32991&dcn=todaysnews

Pentagon unveils new rating standards for some jobs
By Karen Rutzick
krutzick@govexec.com
The Defense Department has released new details on how employees will be rated, and consequently paid, under its new personnel system.
Although the Pentagon had released many details on the workings of the National Security Personnel System on its Web site in late November and again on Dec. 7, it had not included information on exactly how employees would be rated.
NSPS replaces the General Schedule with broad paybands, eliminates across-the-board raises in favor of performance-based raises, replaces locality raises with market-sensitive increases and requires intensive performance appraisals. The system also seeks to streamline unions' bargaining power -- a move that sparked a lawsuit and has delayed implementation until at least February.
The most recent details on NSPS indicate that employees will be graded on a five-point scale based in part on their performance in relation to benchmarks. The five ratings will be: unsuccessful, fair, valued performance, exceeds expectation or role model.
Benchmarks will vary by type of employee. The department added benchmark descriptions for four groups: Technician/Support, Professional/Analytical, Supervisory, and Supervisors in Professional/Analytical.
There are other employee groups, including Investigative, Fire Protection, Police/Security Guard, and Physician/Dental, for which there are still no standards available.
The documents also reveal seven areas of performance (dubbed Standard Performance Factors) on which all employees will be rated:
1. Technical Proficiency
2. Critical Thinking
3. Cooperation/Teamwork
4. Communication
5. Customer Focus
6. Resource Management
7. Achieving Results
Supervisors will be rated on two other categories:
1. Leadership
2. Supervision
For each of the standard performance areas, benchmarks will vary according to paybands. The system designates distinct bands, based on levels of expertise, for each occupation. For example, the Professional/Analytical pay schedule has three paybands: Entry/Intern/Developmental (payband 1), Full Performance/Journey level (payband 2), and Subject Matter Expert/Program Manager level (payband 3).
Benchmarks are provided only for the "valued performance" and "role model" rating levels. For a Subject Matter Expert/Program Manager (payband 3) in the Professional/Analytical group, an employee would have to reach the following three benchmarks to be rated a "valued performer" in the category of Communication:
• Seeks and actively listens to others' questions, ideas and concerns; shows respect for and carefully considers diverse viewpoints and crafts clear and organized responses, following up to ensure understanding.
• Communicates complex information, concepts and ideas to a wide range of audiences in an accurate, clear, concise, comprehensive, well-organized and timely manner; written communications are generally accepted without changes.
• Tailors style and materials to communicate information effectively to different levels of audiences, properly emphasizing critical issues.
If that same employee wanted the highest rating, "role model," he or she would have to attain these benchmarks as well:
• Adeptly reads complex interpersonal interactions and nonverbal cues and adjusts own behavior to communicate more effectively with others.
• Prepares and delivers communications that are of exceptional technical quality as recognized by peers, supervisors and/or customers.
• Uses a variety of techniques to communicate highly complex information, concepts and ideas to a range of audiences in a manner that facilitates their understanding and acceptance of the information.
These benchmark descriptions will serve only as a guide for supervisors rating their employees' performance. In addition to the nine performance factors, employees and supervisors will set out individual goals before each Oct. 1 performance cycle. Supervisors will rate employees on how well they achieve those goals, which are required to be linked to larger organization goals, as well as the nine factors.
All information released by Defense officials is still subject to change after consultation with unions.


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