Obama Dismisses Bush Impasses Panel: Who’s Next?

The author explains what is going on in the dismissal of the seven Bush appointees on the Federal Service Impasses Panel and asks whether the next Panel will be up to the task.

On Friday March 6, 2009, President Obama dismissed the members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP or Panel)).

The Panel is the ultimate decision maker in bargaining disputes between Federal Agencies and their unions. The Panel decides when the parties to a negotiation aren’t able to agree on issues but only if mediation efforts by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service fail to produce an agreement.

According to H. Joseph (Joe) Schimansky, the FSIP’s Executive Director, the Panel will operate much the same as the Federal Labor Relations Authority’s General Counsel when that position is vacant. Cases (Requests for Assistance) will be accepted but cannot be decided in the absence of presidentially appointed members.

President Bush’s Panel included Chairman Becky Norton Dunlop and Members Richard B. Ainsworth, Mark A. Carter, John G. Cruz, Grace Flores-Hughes, Andrea Fischer Newman, and Joseph C. Whitaker. At this time there are no appointees or Schedule C (political appointees) at the Panel. It’s interesting to note that the Panel members are part timers who share a single FTE (Full Time Equivalent) position among the seven.

When President Bush dismissed the Clinton Panel, there was uproar about the action from Federal Unions despite the fact that dismissing Panel members whose parties were no longer in charge is a routine event.

Federal labor law (5 USC § 7119) reads:

(c) (1) The Federal Service Impasses Panel is an entity within the Authority, the function of which is to provide assistance in resolving negotiation impasses between agencies and exclusive representatives.

(2) The Panel shall be composed of a Chairman and at least six other members, who shall be appointed by the President, solely on the basis of fitness to perform the duties and functions involved, from among individuals who are familiar with Government operations and knowledgeable in labor-management relations.

(3) Of the original members of the Panel, 2 members shall be appointed for a term of 1 year, 2 members shall be appointed for a term of 3 years, and the Chairman and the remaining members shall be appointed for a term of 5 years. Thereafter each member shall be appointed for a term of 5 years, except that an individual chosen to fill a vacancy shall be appointed for the unexpired term of the member replaced. Any member of the Panel may be removed by the President.

(4) The Panel may appoint an Executive Director and any other individuals it may from time to time find necessary for the proper performance of its duties. Each member of the Panel who is not an employee (as defined in section 2105 of this title) is entitled to pay at a rate equal to the daily equivalent of the maximum annual rate of basic pay then currently paid under the General Schedule for each day he is engaged in the performance of official business of the Panel, including travel time, and is entitled to travel expenses as provided under section 5703 of this title. (My Emphasis)

Since there are no criteria for Panel service, a member may have virtually no experience in any endeavor to be appointed. Those of us on both sides of the table sincerely hope the President applies some criteria other than an aspiring member’s desire to come to Washington DC once a month or so, stay in a hotel at government rates and eat at per diem rates. I think a meal at Ici Bistro or I Ricci probably isn’t in the cards.

We have seen ping pong labor relations over the last sixteen years and could use as absolutely neutral Panel as the President can find to get the program back on track. Despite the fact that most Panel members (Republican or Democrat) have taken their duties seriously. despite inflated claims by some to the contrary, we can hope that the President at least consider some objective criteria, such as:

  • Demonstrated knowledge of Federal sector labor relations
  • Experience as a neutral, perhaps as an interest arbitrator
  • Ability to gain the respect of both labor and management

What we don’t need are ideologues or political contributors whose only work experience is real estate sales in Des Moines. (Lots of Realtors out of work these days). So far the President has demonstrated an interest in experienced people to work at top jobs. While not a “top job”, membership on the Panel puts a person in a position to substantially influence Agency operations. Let’s hope for a skilled and dedicated group.

As always, the opinions expressed are 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.