Is It Time to Amend the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute?

The author suggests it may be time to modernize the federal labor relations statute.

After a quarter century of practicing federal sector labor relations, you see things and start to wonder if there are ways to make the labor relations environment better for employees, unions, and management. It seems that every Administration since 1996 has tried to put their spin on improving labor relations and making government more “efficient and effective”. All of them, be they Democratic or Republican, have failed.

Administrations of both parties, seeking to “improve” labor relations in the Federal government, picked around the edges by issuing Executive Orders related to their vision of how the Statute (5 U.S.C. section 7101 et sec.) should be executed, mostly in the areas of pre-decisional involvement (PDI) and bargaining permissive topics. Seemingly every Democratic administration required union PDI and their spin on requiring agencies to bargain permissive topics, and the intervening Republican administrations revoking the Democratic Executive Orders that required PDI and permissive bargaining, if not taking it a step further and outright banning PDI and bargaining permissive topics.

Needless to say, the ping-pong effect of these efforts was/is transitory at best, and not only have not done anything to improve labor relations or make the government more efficient and effective, have had the opposite effect. Over the last 30 years, unions and agencies, in lieu of really working together on long-term strategies to make the government more efficient, have spent a significant amount of time developing strategies, business, and labor relations around which party is in office. Everyone, unions, management, and employees, struggled with the ever-changing dynamics of the various Executive Orders, and those dynamics are becoming more absurd with each change in administration.

Take, for example, the extreme nature of the Trump Executive Orders on labor relations issues and the extremes going the opposite direction with the Biden Executive Orders. Trump’s Executive Order 13836 basically banned permissive bargaining and said PDI was a waste of resources, while Biden’s Executive Order 14003 not only mandated bargaining on permissive topics but guidance was also issued that required that if no agreement was reached on a permissive bargaining topic, then the impasse be forwarded to the Federal Services Impasses Panel for resolution. It’s no surprise that everyone struggles to make all these Executive Orders, and Court decisions related to them, come together in a coherent manner.

With all the Executive Order ping-pong that, in my opinion, failed to achieve any real change in Federal sector labor relations, I think it’s time to look at changing the Statute itself with an eye toward modernization and making the government more efficient and effective. The Statute has been virtually static since its inception in 1978. Even worse, many of the basic tenets of the Statute were derived from Executive Orders and regulations that are even older than that. 

In future articles, I’ll be offering my suggestions for reforming and modernizing the Statute. I admit some of the suggestions will be controversial, but there are times when you need to force the discussion to address the elephant in the room.

About the Author

Darryl Roberts is the President of Roberts HR Consulting (RHRC). Darryl has 39 years in federal-sector human resources, with more than 25 years in labor and employee relations. RHRC provides agencies with expert labor relation staff and collective bargaining support, including labor relations training, collective bargaining training, and bargaining strategy development.