WASHINGTON—American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage issued the following statement spotlighting issues ignored or glossed over in the State of the Union address.
Support for the Homeland Security and Civilian Defense Workforces
President Bush praised the dedication of the Americans who work in the areas of national defense and homeland security and stated that these patriots deserve “our support and thanks.” However, the Bush administration's proposed personnel systems for the departments of Homeland Security and Defense would undermine these workers by stripping them of civil service, union and whistleblower protections. These proposals would treat DHS and DoD workers with far less respect than they deserve and would devastate morale. AFGE is fighting both proposals in federal court, having won a decision blocking implementation of the DHS rules and awaiting a ruling on the DoD rules that is anticipated to be issued by March 1.
Care for Our Veterans
It is unconscionable that during a time of war the president completely ignored the plight of our nation’s veterans. Ignoring his administration’s abysmal record on veterans care will do nothing to correct the problem. Over the past few years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been underfunded by billions of dollars. The president should established a formula, as some members of Congress have proposed, by which health care funding for veterans would be assured and adjusted annually to account for changes in population and inflation. The Bush administration also should drop proposals to increase co-pays and enrollment fees that will only harm current and future veterans.
Hurricane Katrina and Gulf Coast Reconstruction
President Bush skimmed over our nation’s most devastating natural disaster with one brief mention. The Gulf Coast and New Orleans reconstruction effort requires immense political and moral leadership and the attention of great policy minds, yet these essential human resources have yet to be provided. In order to successfully reconstruct the region and re-establish normalcy, this effort must be a priority. Furthermore, the federal government should evaluate disaster relief programs and implement common sense, compassionate approaches that will correct existing deficiencies. Federal workers, who must rely on their agency for assistance before they can go to FEMA, have received inconsistent levels of assistance from agency to agency. Whether or not Americans receive disaster assistance should not depend on who their employer is.
Hurricane Katrina tragically revealed that the United States is woefully unprepared to contend with a national emergency—despite the passage of more than four years since the Sept. 11 attacks and a major reorganization of the federal government. A high value must be placed upon the expertise of the emergency planners and other workers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, many of whom have decades of experience. A bottom-up review of emergency management capabilities and plans should be conducted, not just at the federal level, but in conjunction with state and local governments, to ensure that our nation is ready for the next challenge. Likewise, all federal agencies should develop and put into place emergency plans, particularly agencies responsible for populations that might have to be relocated in the event of an emergency, such as the VA and the Bureau of Prisons.
Medicare Prescription Drug Plan
The president completely ignored the Medicare prescription drug program, despite widespread reports of problems since the program took effect on Jan. 1 of this year. The workers who administer Medicare have issued warnings about inadequate agency budgets resulting in tremendous loss of staffing, difficulties for the public in contacting the agencies responsible for Medicare, and confusion among the public over plan options, applying for supplemental assistance and gaps in coverage. Such warnings continue to be ignored while service declines rapidly, causing more frustration and confusion. These workers should be involved in the process of correcting this poorly designed program.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.