The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reverberate through Washington and are reshaping the work lives of federal employees, in small and large ways.
The small ways are fairly obvious: stepped-up security at federal buildings, more attention to emergency preparedness and employee safety drills, anniversary ceremonies in honor of those who died that September day.
One of those ceremonies, "Reflection and Remembrance," was held Friday at the Office of Personnel Management. OPM Director Kay Coles James dedicated a plaque in memory of civil service employees killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The plaque will hang in the OPM lobby, honoring their public service and promising that "they will not be forgotten."
The big changes facing federal employees are more difficult to explain and stir emotions of a different kind. They are about overhauling pay and personnel rules at the Defense and Homeland Security departments. Developing a new workplace culture at the FBI. Reorganizing the intelligence community.
Although proposals that can affect the careers and pocketbooks of employees create anxiety, the Sept. 11 attacks appear to be creating momentum for fundamental changes.
At a briefing last week, Timothy J. Roemer, a 9/11 commission member, portrayed the intelligence community as facing critical staffing shortfalls. For example, he said, the CIA employed only 12 Arabic speakers on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We need people who not only speak the language . . . but understand the nuances of the language . . . and can pick up the code words," he said at the briefing, sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.
"We must invest in people at the CIA to make sure we not only have a powerful national intelligence director but that the director has the people to get the job done, to speak the language and understand the culture and then, yes, penetrate al Qaeda."
Too often in the past, Roemer said, the FBI "did not try to hire analysts with the right background and training. They simply took a staff member who might be having some difficulties . . . and promoted them to be an analyst. We had about 63 percent of the people in analytical capabilities in the FBI who did not have the training, expertise or knowledge to perform that role and function. We cannot have that happen in the future."
Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate oversight subcommittee on government management and the federal workforce, has scheduled a hearing Tuesday on the 9/11 Commission recommendations, including a proposal to provide the FBI with more flexible personnel rules.
Some of the biggest changes, however, are on the drawing boards at Defense and Homeland Security. For weeks, federal union leaders have complained that the Bush administration is trying to gut union rights and undercut employee rights to appeal disciplinary actions.
On Friday, two major union leaders met with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and OPM Director James and left sounding more positive than in the past.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said they were pleased by Ridge's questions and involvement. They both were "cautiously optimistic" when asked how they thought Ridge would respond to their arguments on revising rules on pay, bargaining and discipline.
"For me, this meeting was an opportunity to make sure he is hearing from us, unfiltered, the suggestions we have made to solve the stated problems," Kelley said.
Across the Potomac River, unions met with Defense Department and OPM officials on the creation of the National Security Personnel System, which will revamp rules for civilian employees at Defense.
Labor leaders have been highly critical of the Pentagon's plans, but they left Friday's meeting with a sense that the two sides were starting to listen to one another, union officials said.
Defense and OPM agreed to continue meeting with labor leaders even as the Pentagon goes into a self-imposed "quiet period" to write pay and personnel regulations.
In a comment that could apply to other proposals, Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said, "There is a whole heck of a lot of heavy lifting to do on this thing."