House votes to cut TSA’s budget by $270 million

Joe Davidson
Columnist June 3, 2011

The Republican-controlled House approved legislation Thursday that would cut funding for transportation security officers, the men and women on the front line of aviation safety.

The 219 to 204 vote approved cutting the Transportation Security Administration’s budget by $270 million, according to Democrats and union leaders.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

“At a time when intelligence tells us that terrorists remain interested in attacking transportation, this amendment would cut TSA’s screening workforce by more than 10 percent,” about 5,000 people, said Kristin Lee, an agency spokeswoman.

In a letter to House members before the vote on Rep. John L. Mica’s (R-Fla.) amendment, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the budget cut would “damage the traveling safety of the public and hurt Transportation Security Officers’ ability to do their jobs.”

Even as TSOs are in the midst of voting for a union to represent them, the House also voted 218 to 205 to prevent TSA from collective bargaining with its workers.

Both measures were contained in a $42.3 billion homeland security budget bill for fiscal year 2012, which the House passed 231 to 188.

Union leaders hope that the Senate, which labor-friendly Democrats control, will reject the two amendments.

In February, TSA Administrator John Pistole said he would allow strictly limited collective bargaining for about 44,000 officers, who screen passengers and baggage at the nation’s airports.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), who offered the labor amendment, said: “Collective-bargaining agreements would hamper the critical nature of TSA agents’ national security responsibilities. TSA agents are no different than FBI, CIA and Secret Service agents; we do not negotiate collective-bargaining agreements with security personnel, and TSA clearly falls within that category.”

Negotiating collective-bargaining agreements, however, would clearly place TSA in the category of other federal security agencies, as three House Democrats said in urging colleagues to vote against the Rokita amendment.

“In fact, other officers at the Department of Homeland Security, including those at Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protective Service, already have collective-bargaining rights, which have had no negative impact on job performance or security,” Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (Miss.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Tex.) wrote in a letter.

TSA officers have until June 21 to cast a vote for either NTEU or the American Federation of Government Employees. An earlier vote ended with neither labor organization getting a majority of the votes cast.

In a letter to House members, Beth Moten, AFGE’s legislative director, said the Rokita amendment would have “a profound and detrimental impact on the work lives” of TSOs.

When Pistole decided, after several months of study, to allow collective bargaining, he said, “Morale and employee engagement cannot be separated from achieving superior security.”

He barred bargaining over security policies, compensation, discipline standards, proficiency testing and job qualifications. Bargaining would be allowed over shift bids, transfers and awards.

“We will not negotiate over security,” Pistole said.

Way to fail, guys

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is a sly dude.

He has found a way to encourage success among his department’s staff by rewarding failure.

Before you fixate on “failure” as a negative approach to personnel management, let Locke, whom President Obama has nominated to be the next ambassador to China, explain how he encourages risk-taking.

Here’s what he said Thursday during a Partnership for Public Service forum:

“I sometimes kid our top staff and say, ‘We’ve got to find some projects where we know the employees will fail,’ because when they fail we want to go and applaud them and say, ‘Great job, guys. . . . We didn’t quite make it, so let’s try again.’ ”

For example, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office failed to trim its backlog of more than 750,000 patent applications to under 700,000 by Oct. 31, Locke celebrated with staffers in their Alexandria offices and the agency issued a news release to mark the occasion.

He applauded what he called the “super, high-stretch goal” set by the office. The goal was branded as the “699” campaign, and signs around the office encouraged the staff to push hard to meet the objective.

But the real objective wasn’t the number. It was the increased effort for excellent customer service. The employees responded and the backlog dropped to 708,000, despite a 4 percent increase in filings. It was “the first significant reduction in the patent backlog in a decade,” the office announced.

The backlog, by the way, did fall below 700,000 last week.

The Washington Post has a content-sharing relationship with the Partnership for Public Service.

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