Rudy Messerschmidt is an engineer at Fort Belvoir and the father of seven. He works on flexitime. Flexitime has done something for Messerschmidt and it's done something for the Defense Department. In his opinion, it has made his life easier and his office serve the public better.
He spends less time in his car to and from work (conserving energy and his disposition), since flexitime allows him to select a work schedule that keeps him out of rush hour traffic. At the same time, flexitime has extended by more than two hours the amount of time his office is open to serve defense contractors.
Messerschmidt's office went on flexitime during a three-year congressionally mandated experiment with alternative work schedules that is due to expire at the end of March. Since he and his colleagues work eight-hour shifts, they may not be affected when the experiment comes to a close. But other alternative work schedules that involve longer days, compressed work weeks and a third day off every two weeks will end unless Congress can put together a compromise that satisfies the Office of Personnel Management and federal employe unions.
Flexitime and alternative schedules have, by the OPM's own analysis, improved productivity in 30 percent of the offices studied and improved morale within the federal work force. Alternative work schedules allow working parents to schedule appointments for children's medical needs. Such schedules can reduce the time children spend with baby sitters and increase the time they spend with their parents. They allow hundreds of thousands of federal workers to tailor their work lives to better fit their children's lives. "You can't," says Messerschmidt, "tell me that doesn't lead to increasing productivity."
Yet this allegedly profamily administration with its emphasis on increasing productivity is jeopardizing the program in a way guaranteed to spread additional anxiety throughout an already demoralized federal work force.
OPM's Director Donald Devine wants to take alternative work schedules out of collective bargaining so that agency heads could unilaterally decide whether to have them--and then only if they can prove the schedules will improve productivity and service to the public. How one is supposed to establish that something improves productivity before it even exists is a riddle I leave to Devine. Devine says the current system has resulted in badly managed programs.
Some of whatever bad management has occurred, in fact, has occurred at OPM. This office, which ought to set a standard for efficiency and responsiveness in government, has instead procrastinated and missed congressional deadlines. It was supposed to get a report on alternative work schedules to Congress in September. The report--a favorable one--didn't go to the Hill until Nov. 4.
A cover letter with the report indicated OPM was going to be submitting legislative proposals about the program. They didn't arrive until after the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee unanimously approved a bill drafted by Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) extending alternative work schedules.
Now, with less than two weeks to go before some 175,000 federal employes nationwide have to return to a Monday-Friday work schedule, Sen. Theodore Stevens (R-Ala.) is trying to get a compromise bill drafted that the unions and the Reagan administration can agree on.
Devine has not been able to make a successful case against alternative work schedules as they are operating now, but, even if he had, it was incumbent on him to get that report to Congress on time and submit his legislative proposals in a way that produced smooth transition and not family chaos for federal employes.
Whatever remote chance President Reagan has of producing economic recovery depends on an increase in productivity, yet his administration has done nothing but demoralize and in some instances cripple the nation's largest work force since it took office. The administration is now compounding the anxiety of furloughs and dismissals with this arbitrary, last-minute tampering with people's work lives.
It is cruel and it is capricious and it is bound to affect productivity of federal employes. The men who run the Reagan administration may not have to worry about children's medical apppointments and who takes care of them before and after school, but the men and women who work for the federal government do.