Federal Employees News Digest

DeTrumping the government

It is standard-operating-procedure for a new administration to spend some of its first year in Washington restoring/destroying things the opposition party did while in power. Undoing the previous administration … 

Whether that is a good thing—Trump undoing Obama, or Biden deconstructing Trump----probably depends your political filter.  Do you swear by Fox or follow MSNBC?  Do you wear a mask or not?

What’s not SOP is the high importance the Biden Administration has attached do dismantling dramatic changes the Trump Administration imposed on federal workers and government work rules. And locations.

President Trump and several members of his Cabinet made it clear that Washington was a swamp that needed to be drained and depopulated big time. More than 100 Interior Department employees, many of whom worked within walking distance of the White House, were transferred to, well, the interior. Places like Kansas City and Colorado. Far from the pesky east. And especially the D.C. Swamp. As it turned out, most employees refused to go. In addition to making a life change (and moving to a lower-wage locality pay system) many weren’t prepared to move their families out of the D.C. area, which has some of the best-rated public schools in the nation. Bottom line while some transferred with Uncle Sam picking up the U-Haul bill, the vast majority didn’t go. They quit, retired or took other jobs. Interior had to find new workers in K.C. and Colorado. Now their jobs go back to D.C.

Go figure!

The government’s telework program was on life-support in many agencies during the last year of the Trump administration. Thousands of workers were taken off remote work. Or the time they spent was cut back to one day a week. Or one day per pay period, with the goal of zero teleworkers by, well, now. That is, if President Trump had been reelected.  But …  

COVID-19 hit. Hard. The deadliest world-wide pandemic since the Spanish flu (seriously that was what it was called) in 100 years. We are now 18 months (and over 690,000 deaths) into it.  COVID did what no politicians—those who liked it and those who didn’t—could do. It is now the norm in many agencies. Whatever happens, if there is a second more deadly wave or we crawl out of danger, teleworking is here to stay.  In numbers like never before.

Meantime, House Democrats are pushing federal agencies with space (because so many are teleworking) to rent it out. To the private sector. Imagine Uncle Sam with a profit-making operation?

Unlike many Trump appointees who had little experience (or confidence) in government, many Biden appointees are (for better or for worse) D.C. insiders. That means they know how government works, which buttons to push and how often, how to treat feds (especially members of the career SES with respect. And a little stroking.). Trump’s people, right or wrong, came in with deep suspicions of the bureaucracy and bureaucrats. The Interior Secretary told a private group (at a well-publicized speech) that about one-third of his top staff “didn’t salute.”  Many took that to mean he thought they were disloyal. He rode out of Washington after a brief time. But Interior, along with other agencies, is still licking its wounds. Which many people might say is a good thing.

The Trump people also took aim at federal unions. Most (except for one department of the AFGE union) endorsed Biden. And other Democrats before him. Whether that is a good (as in wise) thing to do depends. It could buy them much good will with the winning team. Or, as has happened in the past, it could tempt politicians to take them for granted. As in where are they gonna go? The last time federal union leaders endorsed—as private citizens—a Republican was when the heads of the AFGE, NALC and NAGE endorsed Nixon in the ‘70s. They got a lot in return but many—especially in hindsight—wondered if it was wise?

The Biden team is also talking about restoring certain things (like free office space at the agency) that was taken from unions by the Trump team. Unions are generally doing well under the new administration. Their problem (nothing new) is getting members, dues-paying members.  People who will help pay the bills for labor groups that get them raises, job perks, teleworking options and better working conditions which go to dues-payers and so-called “free riders” alike.  The largest federal union “represents” more than 700,000 people. And that is impressive, and politicians listen. But it has only 333,000 dues-paying members. Imagine if they could double in dues-paying size.

The Catch-22 for unions is that so many civil servants refuse to organize—whether times are tough as they were two years ago, or when happy days are here again. 

Which they are. At least for now!

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