- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The speed with which the Defense Department’s civilian “transformation” plan zipped through Congress shocked many feds and awed many politicians.

If approved, the plan would rewrite and/or undo nearly a 100 years of civil service rules and procedures.

No matter what agency you work for, you have a dog in this fight.

The secretary of defense, not rules and laws in some dusty ledger, would decide what and how civilian feds are paid, promoted, rewarded (or not rewarded) and revamp the last-hired-first-fired layoff rules. The secretary also would decide what issues are negotiable with unions.

Defense’s 700,000 civilians would feel it first, having their pay raises tied to performance and losing decades-old longevity or within-grade raises (each worth 3 percent) that critics call “being there” rewards.

But other feds would see work and pay rules change as their agencies applied for similar treatment and freedom.

So far the Pentagon’s legislative shock troops have been invincible. They pushed their plan through pro-civil service subcommittees and then embedded it in the must-pass-quick defense authorization bill.

But they could run into a roadblock when Senate-House conferees take up the entire package.

Congressional Democrats want to protect their federal union allies who — under the defense plan — will have less clout than consultants.

But to protect federal workers (who have Republican friends, too) “antireformation” politicians should concentrate on the proposed bill of rights for feds.

Proposed by Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee Democrat, that bill would ensure that basic civil service and appeal rights were in place to keep present, and future, defense brass honest. Or at least careful.

While the defense authorization bill (with the personnel shake-up included) passed the House 361-68, and the Senate by 98-1, that doesn’t mean support is solid for the civil service shake-up. Mr. Cooper’s bill of rights lost in a 204-224 party line vote in the House.

If Republican friends-of-feds Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia and Ted Stevens of Alaska team up with their House counterparts — Reps. Thomas M. Davis III, Jo Ann Davis and Frank R. Wolf, all Virginia Republicans — then they could persuade the conference committee to OK the bill of rights for feds.

Privatization guidelines

The Office of Management and Budget last week announced its guidelines for competitive outsourcing.

Long-awaited by frightened feds and hungry contractors, the rules outline what contractors must do to win more federal dollars and what feds must do to keep their jobs.

Federal unions generally found fault with the new guidelines. They say the tilt is still toward letting contractors take over government work that competes with what’s already being done in the private sector.

The bottom line: The guidelines can be used by either side to prove a point. And, as one retired federal contracting officer said “if the Bush administration keeps pushing privatization, an amendment to the Ten Commandments wouldn’t save federal jobs.”

Tax relief

Now that Congress has provided a compromise tax-cut bill, active and retired feds are hoping it will give quick passage to the so-called premium-conversion legislation by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

Under the plan, retired feds could pay their health premiums with pretax dollars, saving them an average of $300 to $500 each year in taxes. Enough to buy better insurance.

Premium conversion is available to federal and postal workers but they lose the perk — as do private-sector workers — when they retire. The result: The average fed salary drops, and taxes increase, in retirement.

It’s not supposed to work that way, is it?

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

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