Federal Employees as Nursing Mothers: Changing the Culture in the Federal Workplace

President Obama has given OPM delegated authority “to providing appropriate workplace accommodations for executive branch civilian employees who are nursing mothers.” What does this mean for your agency?

The Office of Personnel Management has its hands full.

Complaints from retiring federal employees about the length of time required to set up their annuity payments has created problems for the agency.

The rapid growth of government has highlighted problems with the federal hiring process (See Working Toward a New Federal Hiring Process and Federal Hiring Reform: It Didn’t Work Before But Let’s Try it Again) and the agency is setting up a massive federal health claims database.

During this trying time, the agency still has a propensity to embark on a few “feel-good” projects such as a federal employees’ cookbook or urging agencies to give employees time off to walk in the beautiful Spring weather in DC and to admire the cherry blossoms. (See Time Off to Smell the Flowers)

There is little doubt the agency has plenty to do and is probably overwhelmed but still likes to take the time to take on a few initiatives that bring in good publicity for the agency and make at least a few federal employees feel good about working for Uncle Sam as a civilian employee.

With that in mind, here is a note that was just sent to OPM Director John Berry from President Obama yesterday:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I hereby delegate to you the functions and authority conferred upon the President by section 7301 of title 5, United States Code, with respect to providing appropriate workplace accommodations for executive branch civilian employees who are nursing mothers.

So what does this mean?

The President’s note isn’t perfectly clear but with a little research we have come up with the probable answer.

If you are a federal employee, you probably won’t be getting a federal pay raise for two years and, if you are a federal employee you will not have not had a cost of living increase for two years. But, on the other hand, if you are a new mother who is a federal employee, you are likely to be able to breast feed your child at work.

This is from the OPM website:

Breast-feeding is the method of choice for many mothers. Some mothers choose to combine breast-feeding with formula feeding by nursing before and after work and on their days off. But for the mother who desires to feed her baby breast milk exclusively, a Nursing Mothers Program at the workplace would help achieve this goal. This guide provides information on establishing such a program.

The OPM website also reads:

Not long ago breast-feeding was considered a private affair, solely carried out in the home. But today, many mothers are choosing to continue breast-feeding after they return to work. In order for mothers to keep producing ample supplies of milk, so they can avoid using formula supplements, nursing mothers need to pump their milk during the workday.

Here is what is probably going on inside the bowels of the federal bureaucracy.

President Obama is giving OPM the authority to move out more forcefully with establishing breast feeding programs in federal agencies. OPM has already provided guidance to agencies on how to set up such a program; this will just give the agency more authority to carry it out and a club to bludgeon agencies that have not yet moved out with setting up such a program.

You are likely to read in the Federal Register in the near future about a new OPM initiative to create a model workplace for federal employees by creating breast feeding opportunities for new mothers in the federal workplace. In fact, you can already read about pump specifications, lactation, and electrical outlets necessary for a successful breast feeding program if you are so inclined. And, if you are in the human resources office, you can expect new guidance in the coming months about getting to work on setting up this program for your agency. Whether this will come before or after newer, better federal hiring process is set up remains to be seen.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47