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NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley favors partnerships.
NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley favors partnerships.
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By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pulling a page from Bill Clinton's playbook, the White House plans to create a National Council on Federal Labor Relations, with the intention of fostering cooperation between federal employees and management and the goal of improving government service.

The panel would follow the outlines of the National Partnership Council, created by former president Clinton only to be repealed by George W. Bush. Federal unions have pushed the Obama administration to issue an order similar to Clinton's, and the White House is preparing to do so.

Yet, while the draft executive order is patterned on one Clinton issued, it dumps the word "partnership." That gives the Obama effort its own identity. Also, some union members think the word connotes a relationship with the boss class that's a bit too cozy.

In addition to the National Council, a draft executive order being readied for President Obama also would create agency-level forums charged with identifying and correcting federal workplace problems, provide for the involvement of employees and union representatives in decisions before those decisions are final, and develop an evaluation process to document "progress and improvements in employee satisfaction and organizational performance."

But the thrust of the order goes beyond the workplace and focuses on making things better for Uncle Sam's customers.

"Labor-Management Forums will allow managers and employees to collaboratively champion change in the Federal Government so that agencies can deliver the highest quality services to the American people," according to the draft.

Or as Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union says: "frontline employees have a lot of really good ideas about how to do the work of the agencies better."

The Council would be chaired by Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry. Members would include the Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management, the chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, officials from four executive agencies and representatives of seven employee organizations.

"Federal employees and their union representatives are an essential source of front-line ideas and information about the realities of delivering government services to the American people," the draft order says. "A non-adversarial forum for managers, employees, and employees' union representatives to proactively discuss government operations will complement the existing collective bargaining process and facilitate the design and implementation of the comprehensive changes necessary to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of Government."

Change, of course, is Obama's mantra. With so much of it in government, William R. "Bill" Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said it's critical that labor and management "have a mechanism and a vehicle to sit down and talk about the issues we are facing and use that as a forum to resolve those issues."

Clinton's Executive Order 12871 was issued in October 1993. It called on agency heads to "involve employees and their union representatives as full partners with management representatives to identify problems and craft solutions to better serve the agency's customers and mission."

Bush didn't like that approach and wasted no time changing it. Less than a month after taking office, he issued his own executive order that revoked Clinton's and said "the National Partnership Council is immediately dissolved."


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