Federal workforce faces a mixed bag of bills moving through Congress

A leading Republican voice in the House is revisiting an old issue with federal employee unions.

Senior Deputy Majority Whip Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) introduced a bill in January seeking more stringent oversight of unionized federal employees’ use of “official time.”

The bill, if passed, would require the Office of Personnel Management to submit an annual report to Congress that details the reasons federal employees were granted official time — paid time off for workers to represent their union.

“As currently defined, ‘Official Time’ is any period of time given to a federal employee to perform union activities during the official workday. Unfortunately, from my time as the former chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, I learned firsthand that the OPM has very little accountability for the use of ‘Official Time’ by federal employees,” Ross said in announcing his bill.

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“There is no union business conducted on official time. Current law mandates that, prior to any use of official time, agency management and the labor organization representing agency employees come to an agreement on how and when the use of official time is reasonable, necessary and in the public interest,” AFGE President J. David Cox said in an email to Federal News Radio. “Representative Ross’ legislation is entirely unnecessary as all federal agencies already track and report the use of official time to the Office of Personnel Management, which publishes an annual governmentwide report. This legislation is an attempt to create a bureaucratic barrier to agencies’ ability to work with their represented employees on engagement, productivity and customer service improvements.”

National Federation of Federal Employees President William R. Dougan said official time serves as the “bedrock” of effective labor management and ends up saving the government money. Ross’ bill, he said, would create a layer of bureaucracy that would make it harder for federal workers to do their jobs.

“Whether the savings arise from administrative adjudications as a way to avoid costly attorney fees or from a local military installation collaboratively reforming its work systems to save taxpayers millions, official time is at the heart of effective government operations. Official time is efficient time,” Dougan said. “Opponents of official time, like Rep. Ross, fail to mention in their critiques that federal employees are strictly prohibited by law from using official time for internal union business. They pretend like official time is for internal union business and that simply is not what it is used for.”

Feds in ‘sensitive’ jobs get due process review

Since a 2013 federal court ruling, certain government employees serving in sensitive fields have lost the right to appeal if their agencies fired them for national security reasons.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) introduced a bill on Feb. 1 that would overturn that ruling and reinstate the right of “noncritical sensitive” employees to seek redress from the Merit System Protections Board if they lose their jobs. If the ruling was overturned, it would affect more than 200,000″noncritical sensitive” Defense Department employees whose positions do not require security clearances.

The case was brought to court by DoD employees Rhonda Conyers and Devon Northover, who were summarily removed from their positions without being able to contest their agencies’ decisions before the Merit Systems Protection Board.

“The many federal employees affected by the Kaplan decision do not have what the public thinks of as security clearances and did not have jobs in the security sector,” Norton said. “Allowing terminations to take place without any sort of independent review opens the door for retaliations by agency heads and will dissuade potential whistleblowers from stepping forward out of fear of losing their jobs.”

Congressman proposes bill to dismiss 30,000 FAA employees

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill that would lay off as many as 30,000 employees from the federal government and surrender some of the Federal Aviation Administration’s responsibilities to a non-government entity.

Shuster’s bill would reauthorize the FAA for six years, but would stand up an independent, non-profit corporation to oversee air traffic control. The FAA, in turn, would keep its role as the national aviation safety regulator.

“We have the safest system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill. But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system,” Shuster said in a statement. “Furthermore, the FAA’s overly bureaucratic certification processes are handicapping American companies and causing us to fall behind our competition.”

AFGE and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees jointly issued a press release condemning the decision.

“Making massive changes to the FAA’s structure is neither a prudent nor responsible decision to move the agency forward,” they wrote. “Privatizing the FAA will only add uncertainty and potentially reverse major advancements that have been made over the past several years toward modernization.”

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