8th Council Meeting: OPM and OMB Emerge as Pre-Decisional Police, Metrics Downplayed, New Terms Defined

The author passes on notes and handouts from the 8th meeting of the National Council on Labor Management Relations.

Below are notes from the 8th meeting of the National Council on Labor Management Relations on October 7. Thanks again to our anonymous note taker for keeping the community informed. Council workgroups also issued a handout on Metrics and Terms. After the notes, to no one’s surprise, I offer several comments.

National Labor Relations Council

October 6, 2010

Eighth Meeting


The minutes of last month’s meeting were adopted with minor changes.


The working group presented the status of their efforts. (See attached slides.) It was noted that there were a number of suggestions received from the members. Comments focused on moving forward without making this a reporting burden. As the slides indicate, the comments focused on beginning the efforts on issues, not metrics and easing the reporting burden. Changes from last month included beginning with an issue and then letting the metrics follow; fewer metrics – just one per category; streamlining the reporting and only an annual report; and separate (b)(1) pilot guidance.

It is important for the councils to determine what the issues are, how will they be measured and then report the measurements. By December 2010, parties will report the established baselines — what they are measuring. It was noted that OPM and OMB are developing a software application to use for reporting results. Over time, parties can see what other councils are working on, and how they are measuring up. This should be an excellent tool to assist parties with directions and allow for a quick measure of overall success and areas in need of improvement.

NFFE voiced possible concern over the volume of reports and the timeliness of reporting. SEA noted that large agencies, like DHS and DOD will have to roll up their data as there would be too many council reports to review each one individually. NAGE asked if reports are mandatory and not just recommendations. They are mandatory. Each council will use the three standardized categories and should look at the provided metrics, but ultimately, they will decide their own issues and how they can best be measured.

It was agreed that the final draft report would be distributed to the Council members electronically (after one more working group meeting) and it was hoped that agreement could be reached through this method rather than waiting for the next Council meeting.

Key Terms

Last month, a working group was established to look at defining key terms and phrases of the E.O.. It was suggested that a lack of common understanding was impeding labor-management progress. A working group reviewed the matter and briefed the Council as to their findings. (See attached slides.)

The group’s discussion led to an understanding that the E.O. deliberately contains broad language; variations by agency was an asset in that it allowed each agency to deal with heir unique mission requirements and culture; and clarifying terms could reduce flexibility and lead to potential re-litigation of an E.O. that has already been signed by the President.

The group determined that the most powerful statement of success is better mission accomplishment, improved work environment and better labor-management relations. They agreed that the parties have to get past the statutory interpretation of pre-decisional involvement (PDI) of “I decide, then I share”, to “As I develop certain issues for decision, I include”. They also acknowledged the size and scope of the challenge to prepare, train and execute a cultural change.

In conclusion, the working group recognized a lack of consensus on whether further definition would be a net benefit; agency forums were the best place to work out any differences; performance metrics and reporting requirements provide a mechanism to identify systemic problems; discussion, training and mediation at the agency level is the preferred way to achieve common understandings; and the Council encourages training, and when appropriate, third party involvement to resolve differences in interpretation.

Pre-decisional Involvement

There was extensive discussion on PDI. AFGE said that some people say that PDI is just a pilot. The union wants PDI on all significant issues. A mechanism is needed to do PDI. This is a show stopper for many locals.

NTEU said that PDI was a new way of doing business. They want labor involved sooner in the process rather than later. They noted that bringing the union in earlier in the process reduces the matters brought to the bargaining table. There are too many agencies, the union said, that still want to talk about what PDI is, when it is obvious what the E.O. means. They are seeing agencies have a difficult time adopting this as a new way of doing business.

OPM read from the E.O. and stated that the Order doesn’t say do PDI in one place or for one subject. It needs to be done for all workplace matters. If there is a specific location where this is not being done, let the Council chairs know. This is not a question of defining PDI, but of implementing it. There is no reason to re-debate the E.O., it is time to implement it.

NAGE suggested a letter from the Council co-chairs emphasizing the need to implement the E.O. OPM voiced concern that if there were only a few councils not adopting PDI, a letter of caution to everyone would not be productive.

AFGE noted that damn few places have implemented PDI across the board. Some councils meet infrequently so PDI should occur both at, and outside of, the council meetings.

NTEU said that it felt we’d be further along with PDI by now and that a memo from the co-chairs would be helpful. PDI should be how we do business on a day-to-day basis and not just during council meetings. OPM stated that they were well along with PDI – all the associate directors meet every two weeks with the union to discuss all relevant topics. OPM indicated that it may be good to publicize best practices, provide guidelines and stress the need for implementation. VA and DoD noted that they had put out memos on the use of PDI.

NFFE said that some agencies believe PDI eliminates the need for bargaining and that this misconception has to be fixed. OPM said it will work on the letter.

AFGE said there needs to be an expression of immediacy with regard to PDI. Lots of people are getting soured on the process since it is not happening. PDI needs to occur at all levels. AFGE noted that there are lots of things occurring, such as changes to DoD’s budget, and there has been no union involvement. Agencies need to brief the unions on agency decisions being made now.


SEA said that the council doesn’t have a true sense of where we are with the agency/local councils. It asked if the Council could get a brief report from the cabinet agencies on their status. OPM noted the year-end was a good time to assess the status and we should look at the December meeting. Between now and then we’ll go out with an information request.


The telework working group will be meeting to gather information and they will have a teleconference on the 22nd. AFGE said that it met with GSA and they were working on some progressive telework initiatives. They would be a good agency to speak with as they can share their efforts and also dispel a lot of bugaboos about telework.

Open Comments
Commerce said it was sending forward a jointly agreed to (b)(1) pilot and may be sending up an additional pilot.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Council is November 3, 2010. There was some discussion of delaying the meeting to later in the day because it was the day after election day and some members would be having a late night on Tuesday. OPM would send forward a note for the Council to consider a possible delay in the starting time of the next meeting.

A Few Words

It’s worth your time to also look at Norah Swanson’s coverage of the Council meeting. She reports that in response to AFGE President John Gage’s criticism of agency efforts in predecisional involvement (PDI), OPM Director John Berry got up and read from the executive order and chastened agencies about failing to involve the union in all workplace decisions.

Now that it appears clear who Mr. Berry works for, I guess the pre-decisional involvement police can go to work ferreting out any agency managers who even considered a workplace matter without dutifully reporting to Mr. Gage or other union expert on the issue. I hope Mr. Gage gets busy in the coming weeks. If the White House loses the House and/or Senate, perhaps Gage’s stock might not support the value apparently paced on it by at least some administration officials.


A new term surfaced in the latest slide show, “contextual metrics.”  The slide says it needs to be clarified. Now there’s an understatement. Additionally, the workgroup suggested that a NTEU suggested model of letting metrics follow the issue be adopted. As I recall when all this started, metrics was a concept on steroids. Metrics was to be used to assure that the forums and other labor relations efforts focused on government improvement. Well, we’re eight Council meetings into it and it appears the idea of metrics is on chemo, perhaps heading for hospice.


I have never seen a government document anything like this before. This slide show fairly bleeds with such comments as “heartfelt frustration that Pre Decisional Involvement is not being used enough and that differences in interpretation are leading to delay;” “work teams were frozen due to lack of guidance with members applying a narrow or ‘old school’ train of thought;” and one I am having trouble even understanding:

“both labor and management have to get past the statutory and labor contract interpretation of PDI ‘Once I decide, then a I share’… to … ‘As I develop certain issues for decision, I include’ .”

The angst of these folks is palpable. They obviously need a holistic experience providing them the strength to address such critical issues of moment in the historic progression of our nation and a visionary leader to guide them. Yeah, right. Get real, get a life. They probably think the GEICO commercial with the drill instructor therapist should be banned as insensitive.

Apparently psychobabble rules in D.C. If they are defining terms, maybe I can as well. How about Collective Psychobabble? What is also clear to me is that I obviously need to undergo a transformation away from my narcissistic and dysfunctional delusions and achieve a synergy that empowers a new vision encompassing meaningful relationships interrelating mind, body and spirit.

I do clearly understand the concept of getting past the labor law and existing contracts. If the union doesn’t have what it wants in either of these, it is obviously time to develop a more self-actualizing paradigm for our brothers in the labor movement. I know, for sure, that if AFGE proposes hot tubs in which the Agency forums would meet, the FLRA would find them to be a customary and reasonable facility or service.

As always, I alone am responsible for any comments. I’d like to end with a quotation:

We need to internalize this idea of excellence. Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent. – Barack Obama

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.