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Federal unions skeptical of president's reorganization plan

The president's announcement that he will ask Congress for authority to conduct fast-track government reorganizations received a cautious response from groups that represent federal employees

The president's announcement that he will ask Congress for authority to conduct fast-track government reorganizations—beginning with consolidation of federal departments and agencies that oversee business and trade—received a cautious response from groups that represent federal employees.

President Obama is asking Congress to reinstate authority that it abolished during the Reagan administration. Should Congress grant him that authority, the president said last week that his first action would be to consolidate and integrate the core business and trade components of the Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp., and U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Under the proposal, announced Jan. 13, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which represents more than half of the Commerce Department’s budget, would move to the Interior Department.

The president also announced that he would elevate the SBA to a cabinet-level agency, which he has current authority to do. White House officials said the consolidation would result in the loss of 1,000 to 2,000 federal jobs through attrition over several years.

As to be expected, the job losses elicited a quick response from federal employee unions.

American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage issued a statement approving of the SBA’s move to cabinet level, but he bridled at part of the logic underlying the consolidation.

“I do take issue, however, with the notion that most of government is inefficient and that cutting federal workers will somehow solve the problem,” Gage said in the statement. “Federal employees and supervisors are only carrying out the work that has been created by Congress and elected officials, who have mandated these various layers of bureaucracy largely for political gains.”

National Federation of Federal Employees National President William Dougan took it a step further.

“Though his proposal shows promise for rooting out inefficiencies, the fact that a restructuring could lead to large-scale lay-offs is a very serious concern,” Dougan said in a Jan. 13 statement. “Our sincere hope is that as these federal agencies are reconfigured, they find a way to make sure thousands of people working in these agencies aren’t given pink slips. To the extent that savings can be found while protecting jobs, we are supportive.”

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement that her organization “has had concerns with these efforts in the past,” and cited the key role played by Congress in “proposing the creation, dissolution or merging of government agencies.”

Kelley noted that when agencies are reorganized through the legislative process—rather than through executive authority—the public has the opportunity to provide input through their representatives, and that proposals receive “a full airing” at public hearings.

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