Congress to consider plight of temps with '1039 appointments'

By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, June 30, 2010; B03

With all of the right jabs aimed at the pay of federal employees in recent weeks, you might not realize the lengths Uncle Sam will go to avoid fully compensating some members of his staff.

Among those are staffers with the infamous "1039 appointments."

These workers, often in the lower pay grades, serve Sam faithfully, year after year after year, but only for 1,039 hours a year. That's one hour short of six months, and it allows Sam to classify them as temporary employees. And that means they don't get fringe benefits and certainly have no job security.

Congress will consider their plight at a hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce.

Subcommittee members will hear about situations like those confronting Lawrence Shippen and Susan Forbes, whom we wrote about in January.

Shippen has worked for the Forest Service in California for about 20 years, but just under six months at a time. His temporary status leaves him without health insurance, so he doesn't get his weak hearing checked or his bad teeth fixed.

"It's really an abuse they are perpetrating on all the temporaries," he said.

Forbes is now a full-time Forest Service employee and has benefits. But she was a temp for 12 years. That time doesn't count toward her retirement, which she thinks about a lot now that she's approaching that age. Without credit for that period, she thinks she'll have to work until she is 70.

"I don't think I could make it on what I have in there now," she said.

The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), will look at cases like these and others in which employees feel cheated out of certain benefits because of a temporary job status that in some cases continues for decades.

"For some of the federal workers we represent in the U.S. Forest Service, temporary has lasted more than 30 years," William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said in testimony prepared for the hearing.

Though Sam strives to be a model employer, and in many ways he is, Dougan said conditions of employment for temporary federal workers are "as bad as those provided by any employer. They receive no health insurance benefits, no life insurance benefits, no retirement benefits, no step increases and no competitive standing for internal placement into career jobs."

Hank Kashdan, associate chief of the Forest Service, said in his prepared testimony that "having temporary workers provides needed flexibility to manage our workload and our employees, both temporary and permanent."

The National Park Service also uses temps and finds them to be very helpful. Temps "allow us to address peak workload periods," Jerry Simpson, the Park Service's associate director for workforce management, said in his prepared testimony.

But he also acknowledged that "it is possible for an individual to hold multiple temporary appointments, sometimes in a single year, and create a situation in which, by moving from temporary job to temporary job, she or he is essentially working 'full time' and 'year round,' but not receiving the benefits of permanent federal employment. It is similarly possible for an employee to be readily rehired year after year, into the same seasonal job, if they so desire."

"Though the work may be truly seasonal in nature, the temporary employee can in effect become a 'long-term' employee without long-term benefits," Simpson said.

Simpson recalled the case of James Hudson, a Vietnam vet and a full-time temporary employee who suffered a fatal heart attack while cleaning the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 1993, after working three shifts over two days. Although he had eight years on the job, his family was not entitled to a pension or to government-subsidized health or life insurance benefits.

But thanks to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Congress provided $38,400 for his family, the amount they would have received in life insurance had he been a permanent employee.

In response to his death, the Office of Personnel Management revised rules affecting temps in 1994. In her prepared statement, Angela Bailey, OPM's deputy associate director for recruitment and diversity, said the revisions were needed "in order to ensure that temporary appointments will be used for truly short-term hiring needs and to avoid the perception by employees that temporary employment could last indefinitely."

But their perception, based on reality and years of personal experiences, is just the opposite.

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