WASHINGTON, D.C. - Taking issue with the Bush Administration's plan to end civil service rules and union rights throughout the federal government, John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today pulled no punches today at the Excellence in Government forum that took place at the Washington Post headquarters building. AFGE is the largest federal-sector union, representing some 600,000 employees of the U.S. Government, and the Government of the District of Columbia.
"This Administration has been marked by secrecy," Gage told an audience of some 200 government employees, officers of professional associations, union officials and journalists. "It's not just rank-and-file employees who are kept in the dark, but mid-level managers, as well." Gage asserted that the secretive culture fostered by appointees of the current Administration will only worsen if legislation proposed by Clay Johnson, Deputy Director for Management of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is allowed to move forward. The legislation would eliminate the civil service system presently in place, and replace it with a new personnel system that would give managers unprecedented leeway in determining the pay and working conditions of employees, and virtually eliminate due process procedures for adverse actions.
Citing a survey by the Council Excellence in Government (co-sponsor, with the Washington Post, of the forum), Gage made the case that the greatest motivator for federal employees is their sense of their agency's mission, the union president urged "a rebirth of a service culture in the federal government." He cited OMB's plans for a so-called "pay-for-performance" system as evidence of mislaid priorities in the Administration's plan. Noting that OMB's plan will drive down federal pay, he said, "This is about money—not about providing the best possible service to the American taxpayer."
Gage also spoke of collective bargaining as a process that can be "an asset" overall to a federal agency, since it is a methodical procedure built on the mutual input of management and employees.
For his part, OMB's Clay Johnson, while advocating a legislative proposal that virtually ends collective bargaining, admitted having little understanding of the longstanding practice. "The process of collective bargaining and what's involved, I'm not familiar with," Johnson said.
The OMB Deputy Director for Management also maintained that today's agency managers leave something to be desired. "I would like to see a world where the managers are good at managing," Johnson said. Johnson's legislative proposal would place unprecedented powers in the hands of those managers.
David Walker, director of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), asserted his belief that true civil service reform and collective bargaining "are not mutually exclusive." Walker did, however, stress the need for collaboration between employees and managers in the design and maintenance of any new personnel systems. Otherwise, he seemed to imply, managers will find themselves set against employees as they try to implement new work rules.
"The process matters," Walker said. "If you don’t have the right process, you will fight a two-front war—and in most cases, you don’t win a two-front war."