Obama’s civilian staff of more than 2 million certainly faces “an uncertain future” in the very near future as discussions during the next two months on raising the nation’s borrowing limit, deficit reduction and the budget could have a direct effect on their pocketbooks and workplaces. Unpaid furloughs are a real possibility, and the potential for layoffs has workers worried.
After imposing a freeze on basic federal pay rates for more than two years, Obama has ordered a tiny raise, 0.5 percent, to begin at the end of March. Many Republicans, however, support legislation extending the freeze through the end of the year. Obama and Republicans have proposed making employees contribute more to their retirement funding, but so far that has been imposed only on those hired after 2012.
Despite the uncertainty, federal employees continue to work with the “passion and dedication” he urged. The Obama administration has taken action to support workers, with varying degrees of success.
One of the most notable items on that list is federal hiring reform. Widely viewed as a broken mess when Obama took office, he told the Office of Personnel Management to simplify and quicken the way Uncle Sam hires people.
In May 2010, he released a plan to slash hiring times and move to a résumé-centered system, rather than one based on the dreaded KSAs, which were essays on the applicants’ knowledge, skills and abilities.
“The president is committing the power of his office to the importance of this issue, which is trying to streamline our hiring process,” OPM Director John Berry said at the time.
The administration also has focused on hiring a greater number of veterans, facilitating the employment of interns and recent graduates, increasing workplace diversity (especially for Latinos and the disabled) and reducing the backlog of retirement applications.
Labor relations certainly are better now than during the eight years of the administration of George W. Bush. Taking a cue from the Clinton administration, Obama revived labor-management forums to “allow managers and employees to collaborate in continuing to deliver the highest quality services to the American people,” in the words of an executive order he issued in December 2009.
The forums have not been a success in all agencies, but Matthew S. Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, said it’s a “good sign” that Berry has expressed a willingness “to inventory all agencies in the federal government, with a goal of bringing those that are not in compliance with the Executive Order toward real working partnerships.”