- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Believe it or not, most federal and postal unions once had a “house” Republican on the payroll.

He was usually a special lobbyist, sometimes a union officer, who had lines to the GOP. Although the Democrats usually ran Congress, having a card-carrying Republican was useful, especially during the Eisenhower and Nixon years.

He would seek support from GOP minorities in the House and Senate to allow big federal pay raises and improved civil service perks without anti-bureaucrat attacks from the opposition.

Believe it or not, the presidents of the American Federation of Government Employees union (AFGE) and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) endorsed President Nixon for re-election.

That’s right: N-I-X-O-N. In return, postal workers got better pay and benefits, and the pay package for blue-collar (skilled craft and trades) workers was improved dramatically. At the time, they were the backbone of the AFGE’s membership.

But from Jimmy Carter to Al Gore, the unions, with one exception, worked hard for Democratic presidential candidates. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization endorsed Ronald Reagan. He then fired them for staging an illegal strike, but that, as far as the union leaders went, was it. Republicans had proven they couldn’t be trusted in the White House.

Over the years the mutual suspicion spread, convincing many Republican politicians that most federal workers are closet Democrats.

That paranoia may be about to get worse (or better, if you are a believer), thanks to an incident in the Nevada desert last Wednesday.

The AFGE dumped its two-term president, Bobby L. Harnage, for being too easy on the White House and not fighting hard enough to prevent the privatization of hundreds of thousands of federal jobs.

John Gage, from Baltimore, the president-elect of AFGE, has promised a public-relations campaign to convince the public that outsourcing federal work isn’t about better spending of tax dollars, but rather it’s about benefiting contractors who make political contributions.

As the multibillion-dollar war over outsourcing and the Pentagon’s “transformation” heats up, both sides — federal unions and GOP politicians — are likely to be more convinced than ever that the other guy is out to get them.

Unless one of the unions returns to a kinder, gentler time and asks itself, “Is there a Republican in the house?”

Thrift savings plan

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, wants to find out what went wrong with the June launch of the federal 401(k) plans’ new, computerized daily valuation system.

It was supposed to allow feds to get instant computer updates on their accounts and speed up — from weeks to a matter of hours — transfers of money from one fund to another, as well as personal loan applications.

But several systems failed or didn’t perform up to snuff. As a result, some feds who had applied for loans didn’t get a check when they expected it. Others had to resubmit applications. Some were disappointed by backlogged phone lines when the computer system bogged down.

TSP officials say that despite it all, they made a record number (31,878) of loan disbursements in June, and as of Thursday, the number processed for this month was more than 40,000.

They also say that investors who lost money because funds weren’t moved in a timely fashion (under the new system) will be recompensed in whole. Their accounts will be credited with what they would have earned had the transfer been made on schedule.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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