Flag bill to honor federal workers headed to Obama’s desk

Joe Davidson
Columnist December 15, 2011

After generating a brief but surprising amount of controversy, legislation to honor federal civilians with a flag if they died in the line of duty now awaits President Obama’s signature.

The Civilian Service Recognition Act was sent to the White House on Tuesday after the Senate passed it last week without opposition and the House gave it unanimous approval in November.

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

This strong show of support is enough to warm the hearts of the federal workforce, which in so many other ways has been treated with a cold congressional shoulder.

A White House spokesman did not know when Obama will sign the bill into law.

It would allow the head of an agency to present a flag upon request to a relative of a federal worker who “dies of injuries incurred in connection with such individual’s employment with the Federal Government, suffered as a result of a criminal act, an act of terrorism, a natural disaster, or other circumstance as determined by the President.”

Citing Office of Personnel Management figures, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), prime sponsor of the legislation, said nearly 3,000 civilians have died while serving their country since 1992, including 24 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This benefit may seem modest, but it’s significant to our federal employees who work within this nation and in countless overseas posts,” Hanna said. “I’m proud that our nation values service and sacrifice. A life can never be repaid but it can be honored; this bill ensures that.”

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) sponsored the bill in the Senate.

The American Legion had problems with language in an earlier version of Hanna’s bill and commentators on right-wing blogs urged conservatives to reject it. The Legion denounced the earlier bill because Legion officials felt that civilians should not be honored “in the same way as our military or veterans.”

The earlier version said: “A flag shall be furnished and presented under this section in the same manner as a flag is furnished and presented on behalf of a deceased member of the Armed Services who dies while on active duty.”

The amended bill sent to the White House says: “The head of an executive agency may furnish a flag for a deceased employee.”

That change satisfied the Legion. In an October letter to Hanna, Tim Tetz, the Legion’s legislative director, said the amended bill “ensures the sacrifices made by federal employees will not be overlooked while guaranteeing the earned benefits of veterans is not diminished.”

Far from “denouncing” the legislation, as the Legion originally did in a press release, the letter to Hanna said that with the changes the organization “will be happy to work with anyone to promote passage of this bill.”

The Senior Executive Association praised the work of Terry Newell and Robert Gest, who are veterans, civil servants, and instructors at the Federal Executive Institute for originating the idea of honoring fallen civilians with a flag.

“Without their passion and dedication to federal employees, especially those who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, this appropriate and much overdue legislation would not have passed,” said association president Carol Bonosaro.

“At a time when federal employees are increasingly under attack,” she added, “this is good government legislation that appropriately honors fallen federal employees for the work they do for this country.”

Sign up for SES program

Friday is the last day for federal employees interested in entering the Senior Executive Service (SES) to apply for the Asian American Government Executives Network SES Development Program. The program includes information on application preparation, leadership training, mentorship, placement assistance and networking opportunities.

Applicants do not have to be Asian American, but the organization’s Web site says: “one of the program selection criteria is how the applicant supports the mission to promote, expand and support Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leadership in Government.”

Although the application is due by midnight Friday, additional related materials are not due until Jan. 6. More information is available at the organization’s Web site, www.aagen.org/.

Also at the site is a survey the organization is using to identify “the challenges and barriers facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, as well as other groups” seeking advancement to the SES.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

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