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Federal Diary: Taking stock, supervisors fared well in 2009

The IRS reports that federal workers owed $3 billion in unpaid taxes in 2008. The Treasury Department, which includes the tax-collecting agency, had the best compliance rate of Cabinet-level departments.
The IRS reports that federal workers owed $3 billion in unpaid taxes in 2008. The Treasury Department, which includes the tax-collecting agency, had the best compliance rate of Cabinet-level departments. (Dennis Brack/bloomberg News)

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By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's been a pretty good year for Uncle Sam's managers and supervisors. They should enjoy it while they can because many of them may not be around much longer.

First the good news for bosses: They persuaded the White House to limit certain bargaining rights for unions in an executive order President Obama issued last week, and they saw the creation this year of an office within the Office of Personnel Management to serve senior executives. Managers are particularly grateful for legislation allowing employees in the Federal Employees Retirement System to credit unused sick leave toward their retirement.

But the high times could be coming to an end for many supervisors. A potential wave of retirements is likely to hit the managerial class harder than others in the federal workforce because supervisors generally are older and have more years of service, the Merit Systems Protection Board said in a report released last month.

Still, "I think it was a fairly decent year," said Darryl A. Perkinson, president of the Federal Managers Association.

One thing that would have made it even better, from the perspective of the Senior Executives Association, would have been a meeting between Obama and federal managers.

Carol A. Bonosaro, the association's president, cited a meeting that President George H.W. Bush had with senior executives from across the government just days after he was inaugurated in 1989. "Folks walked out of there and would have walked on water for the president," she said.

Meetings like that go a long way toward building morale among the government's managers, Bonosaro said. They're "cheap dates," she said of her members. "You pay them a little attention, and they would follow you anywhere."

Obama may not have had a mass meeting with managers, but his administration did listen to their complaints before he issued an executive order creating labor management forums last week. An earlier draft directed bosses to negotiate with unions over certain issues that had been left to the discretion of the agencies. The final version creates pilot projects in which "some executive departments or agencies elect to bargain over some or all" of the optional items.

The Obama administration also won plaudits from Senior Executive Service members when the Office of Personnel Management created a centralized office to serve the program. "Fully supporting this dynamic talent pool requires the Office of Personnel Management to implement new mechanisms that maximize the potential of these executives within the Federal workforce," OPM Director John Berry said when he announced the new office in August.

The sick-leave legislation applies to many federal employees, but managers are especially happy with it. Without the measure, workers could not include unused sick time in their retirement calculations. This meant they would try to take as many sick days as they could shortly before they retired, reducing productivity and causing headaches for supervisors.

Links to the Merit Systems Protection Board report, the executive order and information about the Senior Executive Service office are with this column at http://www.washingtonpost.com/fedpage.

Tax cheats owe $3 billion

Federal workers owed more than $3 billion in income taxes in 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service, a figure that dropped slightly from the year before.


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