Change in Government: Barack Obama’s Letters to AFGE President John Gage

What changes will federal employees see in agencies under an Obama administration? In letters to AFGE’s National President, the future president outlines priorities for major departments during his term of office.

On October 20, just weeks before the election, Sen. Barack Obama sent six letters to John Gage. These letters address concerns, apparently raised by Mr. Gage with then Candidate Obama. We have not seen Mr. Gage’s letters, but Mr. Obama’s stand alone. They address issues in six agencies: the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development, Social Security Administration, Transportation Security Administration and the Labor Department.

In this article we’ll look at the letters to DOL, EPA and HUD saving SSA, TSA and VA for part 2 of this article.

Department of Labor

In this letter, Senator Obama makes five key points:

He promises a Labor Secretary, who –

  •  fully supports the mission of the Department
  •  will protect working Americans and their families.
  • fight to protect overtime rights for millions of Americans
  • enforce wage and hour laws
  • ensure that OSHA enforces workplace safety laws.
  1. He says his Labor Secretary will support DoL civil servants as they work to enforce our labor laws.
  2. He says that the Administrator of Mine Safety and Health will be an advocate for miners’ safety and health, not for the mining companies’ bottom lines. Our mine safety program will have the staffing and the enforcement tools needed to get the job done.
  3. He states that “it’s time we stopped talking about family values and start pursuing policies that truly value families, such as paid family leave, flexible work schedules, and telework,…”
  4. With regard to the last bullet, he says the federal government will lead by example.

Environmental Protection Agency

This letter reiterate’s the then candidates strong environmental position with some interesting points of emphasis:

  • “I am committed to pursuing greater funding for the EPA so that its responsibilities are carried out. Clean water, land and air, and ensuring the health and safety of our citizens, especially children, will be high priorities in an Obama Administration.
  • He states his belief that, “EPA was established to be the nation’s leader in environmental science, research, and education – yet these are the three fields which have been damaged by politics and ideology. I strongly oppose attempts by the Bush Administration to thwart publication of EPA researchers’ scientific findings, as well as the attempt to eliminate the agency’s library system.
  • In an Obama Administration, he says, the principle of scientific integrity will be an absolute, and I will never sanction any attempt to subvert the work of scientists.”

Housing and Urban Development

In this letter, Mr. Obama returns to the appointment of a Secretary. He pledges:

  • To appoint a Secretary, Deputy and Assistant Secretaries who are committed to HUD’s mission and capable of executing it.
  • Seek resources to successfully implement the expansion of programs required by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
  • to look at work that is being contracted out to ensure that it is fiscally responsible and effective.
  • to reverse contracting of HUD work.
  • to work with HUD employees and their union representatives.

Campaign Promises or Predictions of Action?

None of the content of these letters is a surprise. All are consistent with the President Elect’s platform and issues on which he ran. I recommend you read each letter for yourself. Each is very specifically critical of the outgoing administration and supportive of the audience he’s writing for. Each addresses the workforce at the Agency as well as its mission. While written before the election, they shouldn’t be written off as mere campaign rhetoric.

The President Elect obviously believes in a role for employees and their representatives in moving his agenda forward. Will he be disappointed in them as a number of Clinton Administration officials appeared to be toward the end or will he find a way to successfully involve both employees and their unions to advance his goals.

Stay tuned for Part Two in which the volatile issues involving TSA and others are addressed.

Any opinion rendered, or as more often the case inferred, is mine and mine alone.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.