The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) scored significant legislative victories in the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives this past week that went largely unnoticed as the public focused on turmoil in the Senate.
On Friday, the House voted 414 to 0 to provide $2.1 billion in new money for a six-month extension to the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act. The measure includes new funding for hiring and workforce development for VA employees.
“Today Congressional leaders came together, put party politics aside, and passed legislation that is vital to the future of the VA. We are very encouraged by the passing of this bill, which will allow additional investment in the VA, and allow the VA to manage non-VA care better than the broken Choice program,” said AGFE National President J. David Cox Sr. in a statement released after the vote.
In a separate decision, the House voted 253-172 to prohibit the Department of Defense from using funds to conduct new A-76 studies that would determine whether DoD operations can be conducted more economically by transferring jobs from Federal employees to the private sector.
Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, (D-PA), the amendment was attached to a spending package that includes the Department of Defense, Military Construction-Department of Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills. Cartwright’s amendment extends a moratorium on A-76 studies that has been in place since 2010.
On Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency focused on a GAO report concerning misconduct by temporary and term-appointment workers employed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
GAO found that while FEMA had a good process in place for its full-time staff:
FEMA has not documented misconduct policies and procedures for Surge Capacity Force members, who may augment FEMA’s workforce in the event of a catastrophic disaster. Additionally, FEMA’s Reservist (intermittent disaster employees) policies and procedures do not outline disciplinary actions or the appeals process currently in practice at the agency.
AFGE’s Director of Policy, Jacqueline Simon, provided expert testimony at the hearing and pointed out that FEMA employees who are hired for temporary or term appointments do not undergo rigorous vetting through competitive examination, are employed “at-will,” and may be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason and have no rights of appeal, and no due process protections.
“Corruption is an ever-present danger when the government is providing assistance after a disaster. There are cash transfers, direct provision of goods and services, and procurement decisions that are all occasions for those who either don’t have clear policy and supervision, or are vulnerable to pressure from corrupt supervisors or managers to engage in misappropriation,” said Ms. Simon in her testimony.
“FEMA is the last agency that should be staffed by an at-will workforce with no collective bargaining rights and no avenue of appeal for adverse actions by managers. There should be no surprise that there are allegations of impropriety among a workforce that is so much at the mercy of managers. If this subcommittee is truly interested in providing the public with well-trained, qualified, and accountable emergency workers, then the current practice of hiring Reservists and CORE employees ‘at will’ should end.”
These successes came with bipartisan support by a House that has seen relatively little cooperation between the two political parties and demonstrates what is possible by reaching across the aisle and enlisting the cooperation of Federal unions.
As John McCain said about healthcare reform, “What have we to lose by trying to work together to find solutions? We are not getting much done apart.”