FLRA Confirmation Hearings: Softball Questions, Vague Answers, No Substance

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs held hearings on the pending confirmations of all three FLRA nominees on September 25. The author suggests that Federal LR practitioners watch the session which is about 1 ½ hours in length to get an appreciation of how the process works and how almost no discussion of substance took place.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs held hearings on the pending confirmations of all three Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) nominees on September 25, 2013.

If you check out the link above, you’ll also find statements of each nominee that they read into the record.  Three senators were present, Chairman Tester (D. Montana), Sen. Portman (R. Ohio) and Sen. Johnson (R. Wisconsin).  Tester and Portman stayed for the entire hearing, Johnson left after his first round of questions.  Eleanor Holmes Norton (Del. D.C.) sponsored Carol Waller Pope’s nomination, Ernest Dubester and Patrick Pizzella were also at the table.

With two republican Senators present, I expected to see at least some questions on the Authority’s reversal of past precedent, beatings delivered by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, disregard of Agency prerogatives and the like.  Instead I was treated to almost an hour and a half of talk about whether the FLRA gets 24 or 25 million dollars or gets a staff of 123 or 134 people.  Really!

Ms. Pope continues to take credit for improving employee morale by ruling the way the staff wants her to i.e., to the left of any issue and in favor of the unions.  Dubester fell in with the me too! crowd.  In a little piece of meat, Pizzella said that the Agency shouldn’t forget the taxpayer.  This was the only mention of the taxpayer in the proceedings.  He also suggested that Agencies need to pay more attention to labor relations.

Ms. Pope said she had been guided by the case law.  She’s kidding, right? She also took the opportunity to slam the Bush FLRA one more time.  It’s old news, Ms. Pope and you’ve had four years in which you’ve accomplished a total ideological rewrite of case law.  Of course, much of her mischief is or will be reviewed by the courts but due to the deference by the court to FLRA’s “expertise”, much more, sadly, has not been addressed.

Much was made in the hearing about ADR in the case handling process (Read arm twisting).  When asked the percentage of cases in which there was a difference between the members, Dubester said 80-85% of opinions were not unanimous. That’s 1 in 5 and no one asked a single question about why that was.

In essence, all the Senate of the U.S. apparently cares about is whether these people get cases done on a self imposed timetable.  The impact of Authority decisions on Agency operations, the cost of the those decisions to implement, and all of the other substantive issues surrounding how the FLRA actually manages Federal labor relations were not a subject of inquiry.  The reality was probably best expressed by Sen. Johnson who said he wasn’t familiar with what the FLRA did and asked Pope (1:01:30 into the hearing) how the negotiability process worked.  She was more than glad to instruct him.  If ignorance is truly bliss, these guys are the happiest I’ve ever seen.

As always, any opinion expressed is mine alone.    BTW, if the shutdown is being addressed by these guys, don’t expect any understanding of issues.

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.