The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is a busy place.
It has been examining the Internal Revenue Service, postal reform, border security and other high-profile issues.
Now Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) turns the committee’s attention to a series of federal employee-related bills that have fallen into the legislative hopper by flying far below the public’s radar.
Federal employee groups wish some of the measures would crash before takeoff.
On Wednesday, the committee is scheduled to vote on several pieces of legislation, including those that would prohibit employee bonuses for the rest of this fiscal year, allow agencies to place senior executives on “investigative leave without pay,” and facilitate the taping of employee telephone conversations by taxpayers.
With all the angst about government surveillance of telephone and other communications, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) wants to turn the tables. “The Citizen Empowerment Act” would “require most federal agency employees to provide individuals with a verbal or written notice of the individual’s right to record a conversation before a meeting or telephone call,” according to a statement from her office.
The legislation, she said, would “give individuals a new tool to fight back, and allow citizens to protect themselves or their businesses when a government official comes calling.”
“The real intent of this legislation is to vilify federal employees and make us appear untrustworthy,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wants to stop federal employee bonuses for the rest of this fiscal year and cap them at 5 percent of salary through fiscal 2015. “The federal government has no business handing out millions in bonuses to senior-level staff,” he said, while at the same time furloughing employees.
The National Treasury Employees Union opposes the bill, saying “performance awards . . . serve the important purpose of recognizing performance above established standards, and in that way, encourage and reward high-performing federal employees.”
Senior Executive Service members would be punished before being found guilty of misconduct under the Government Employee Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.). The legislation, which passed the House last year, would allow agencies to place senior executives on “investigative leave without pay.”
The legislation, Kelly said, would “stop those under investigation from receiving salaries paid for by the very public whose trust they abused.” But if the situations are under investigation, then apparently it hasn’t been finally demonstrated that the employees abused the public’s trust.
“To the uninformed, Rep. Kelly’s bill sounds sensible, however, Senior Executives already serve at considerable risk since they have virtually no effective appeal rights,” said Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. The bill, she added, would create a “guilty until proven innocent” standard.
Bipartisan legislation offered by Texas Reps. Henry Cuellar (D) and Michael McCaul (R) seeks to improve federal government services through the establishment of government-wide standards to improve response times. The Office of Management and Budget would set the standards and the chief performance officer at each agency would be responsible for improving customer service.
“Too often we hear that Americans are frustrated with government service,” Cuellar said. “It is our responsibility to act when we hear that students are having difficulty with federal student loans or when seniors experience a delay in their retirement benefits. Every taxpayer every day will benefit from this legislation.”
Another bipartisan bill targets government waste by requiring Uncle Sam to produce more reports.
“The Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act addresses federal government waste by requiring each federal agency to produce an annual report that identifies every program with a description of the program and its costs, expenditures for services, beneficiaries of services and number of staff,” said a statement from the office of Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who sponsored the bill with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). “This information would be posted online with recommendations from each agency to improve efficiency.”
Issa’s bill to reform the long-ailing U.S. Postal Service also is on the agenda. It would do a number of things, including phasing out Saturday delivery of bills and letters, but continue six-day delivery of packages and medicine. The Postal Service would be allowed to forget about past-due payments to pre-fund retiree health-care benefits and the payments for this fiscal year and next would be eliminated.
Postal employees would pay more for health insurance benefits, and postal labor contracts would not be allowed to have no-layoff clauses.
“The legislation incorporates reforms offered by members of both sides of the aisle and builds upon months of bipartisan and bicameral discussions,” Issa said.
American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said Issa’s plan isn’t as bad as one previously advanced, but is still “deeply disturbing.” The union is urging its members to fight the bill by calling lawmakers.
“This bill would have a devastating effect on the Postal Service and on postal employees, as well as the American people,” said Gary Kloepfer, APWU legislative and political director. “We must do everything we can to stop it.”
This isn’t the only bill generating that response.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.