- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Is the new federal policy to monitor the work hours of the union officers on the federal payroll an anti-labor crackdown or simply a prudent check to see that the government, unions and taxpayers are getting the best deal?
It depends on whom you ask.
Some unions say the directive requiring annual reports detailing how much work time the officers used for union business versus for their federal responsibilities is "chilling," a pre-election warning shot across their bow.
Some nonpolitical feds in the labor-relations business say it's a long-overdue reality check. They say that in some federal agencies, local union leaders during the Clinton years did everything but their federal jobs.
Administration officials were ticked off, to put it mildly, when at least one federal union made a major issue of the Bush administration "borrowing" from the federal 401(k) program. What irked them was that what the Treasury Department did was legal, didn't cost the Thrift Savings Plan a nickle, and, adding insult to injury, was done five times without complaint from the unions by the Clinton administration.
But the new order, requiring agencies to report on the use of official time by local union leaders "isn't part of any anti-union campaign," one official said. "In fact, it's nothing new. We are just reminding agencies that this is one of their management responsibilities."
Being there pay raises safe
There is little chance the Bush administration will persuade Congress to eliminate "being there" longevity pay raises in favor of a governmentwide pay-for-performance system.
The longevity raises, called WIGS (for "within-grades"), go to 30 to 40 percent of the work force annually. They are worth 3 percent, in addition to any pay raise, and are only denied to the 2 percent of workers rated as "unsatisfactory" each year.
Officials say that's no way to run a business, and that the WIGs amount to costly automatic rewards for simply "being there" and doing their jobs. They want to introduce a pay-for-performance system. So, it should be added, did the Clinton, Reagan, and Carter administrations.
With the exception of "demonstration projects" in some agencies, pay-for-performance is the stuff of ignored reports and theses written by graduate students studying public administration.
Unions have successfully led the charge against pay-for-performance, in lieu of the longevity raises that feds get every one, two or three years, depending on their time in grade.
Unions say they wouldn't object to true pay-for-performance if there were guarantees that pay raises couldn't be used as punishment or payoffs to favorites. In fact, they say, in the civil service system, fair treatment is supposed to be a standard right a right WIGs were originally adopted to ensure.
The final version of any congressional overhaul of the civil service also is likely to limit buyouts. Insiders expect Congress will limit the maximum $25,000 payments for "reshaping" agencies' work forces and not for downsizing.
The Clinton administration paid buyouts to more than 200,000 federal workers. While that cut the work force and the payroll (with many jobs simply being farmed out to the private sector), it also resulted in "skills imbalances" at agencies expected to lose more of their most experienced employees as retirements crest in the next couple of years.
Key members of Congress don't want to see the government paying valuable people $25,000 to retire. They do like the idea of paying selected people to leave.
Currently, only a dozen federal agencies including the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service have buyout authority. And most of them are time-limited.
Under the bipartisan plan supported by the White House, buyouts would become a permanent tool available to all executive branch agencies, such as the Department of Labor and Department of the Treasury.

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