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June 9, 2012

House Passes Bill to Prevent Pay Raise at Defense, VA: The House this week did what it does best: attack federal employees. This time House lawmakers targeted our country’s veterans – who make up a large segment of the workforce at DoD and VA – and those who serve them and our military members by stripping funds at DoD and VA that would be used to fund the 0.5% pay raise President Obama has proposed for next year. The bill, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, still needs to be approved by the Senate. Obama threatened to veto the bill if it includes the provision blocking civilian pay.

Appeals Court Sides with AFGE in RIF Negotiability Case: In a case involving an AFGE local, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has upheld the right of federal unions to negotiate certain issues surrounding an agency’s implementation of a Reduction in Force (RIF). The specific case involved the Air Force’s 2006 decision to conduct a RIF at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. AFGE Local 1547, which represents employees at the base, made two proposals related to how the RIF would affect employees hired under Veterans Recruitment Appointments (VRAs). The Air Force challenged the union’s right to negotiate over the proposals, prompting AFGE to appeal to the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The FLRA ruled in AFGE’s favor in 2011, but the Air Force appealed to the Court of Appeals. On June 1, the court upheld the FLRA decision.

VRA employees are excepted appointments, not competitive service positions, and must be converted to a career position after two years of satisfactory performance on the job. The Air Force’s planned RIF only eliminated competitive service positions, which meant that VRA appointees who had not been converted to the competitive service would not have been affected. AFGE was concerned that excluding these VRA appointees would have a negative impact on more senior employees already in the competitive service, since in many cases the VRA appointees had less service time than competitive service employees in comparable positions. AFGE subsequently made two proposals to ensure that competitive service employees were not adversely affected. First, if the Air Force determined a competitive service employee would be displaced by the RIF, and a VRA employee with less seniority occupied a similar position, the Air Force would change the non-competitive appointment of the VRA to a term appointment that would expire before the RIF took effect. Secondly, the Air Force would not make any new VRA appointments while the RIF is pending unless the position into which the employee was hired would not be affected by the RIF. Many career employees are veterans. AFGE’s proposals would preserve seniority and fairness in the system.

“By attempting to exclude employees appointed under the VRA authority, the Air Force was trying to circumvent RIF rules and lay off permanent employees with more seniority. We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has upheld the right of the union to negotiate over the terms of a RIF that otherwise would have negatively affected career employees,” AFGE President John Gage said.

The government has 45 days to file a petition for rehearing, but AFGE does not anticipate that the agency will challenge the court’s decision.

Right-Wing Lawmakers Want Federal Employees to Pay for Lower Student Loan Rate: Right-wing House lawmakers led by House Speaker John Boehner said middle-class federal employees, not their wealthy campaign donors, should pay for a one-year extension of the low student loan rate. Under their latest proposal, they want to extend the rate by permanently increasing the current employees’ contributions to their pension by 1.2% of salary.

Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act in 2007 to lower the interest rate on federal student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, but the law expires July 1. The Obama administration wants to extend it, but many right wing lawmakers have voiced “concerns” that helping these students would cost the government $6 billion, even though they had no problem giving corporations another tax break that would add $46 billion to the deficit. In fact, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Path to Poverty budget proposal that has become the right wing’s vision for America counts on the student loan rate to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in July as a way to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois told reporters that extending the student loan rate by increasing federal employee retirement contributions is “totally unacceptable.”

Senate Committee Caps Contractor Pay at $230,700: The Senate Armed Forces Committee this week adopted a measure that would cap the maximum taxpayer-funded salaries for defense contractors, except for scientists and engineers, at $230,700. Currently, contractors are allowed to bill taxpayers as much as $763,029 for an executive’s salary, an increase of more than 75 percent in just eight years. 

“At a time when most Americans are seeing little or no increase in their paychecks and budget constraints require the Department of Defense to find efficiencies in all areas, the committee concludes that increases of this magnitude are unsupportable,” the panel wrote.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

OMB Directs Agencies to Base 2014 Budget Requests on Evidence: In a recent memo to agency heads, Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeffrey Zients said agencies should base their budget requests on evidence and evaluation of their programs. The memo urges agencies to explore various tools and strategies to evaluate programs and improve agency resource allocation. OMB is more likely to approve a budget request for programs that have been proved effective by research or other reliable evaluation approaches. The memo lists several examples of evaluation strategies being used at different agencies. It also urges agencies to seek congressional authority to establish cross-agency performance partnerships to align programs. Agencies are also directed to include in their budget request a section on their most innovative uses of evidence and evaluation.

Bill Introduced to Weaken New Financial Reform Law, Enrich Wall Street: Even after the financial crisis caused by greedy Wall Street that has sent the economy into the worst recession since 1930s, right-wing lawmakers in the House of Representatives continue their effort to weaken financial regulations and give the bankers a free reign to wreck more havoc on the economy. This week they introduced the 2013 Financial Services bill that would effectively starve the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, by requiring that the bureau’s funding be appropriated by Congress as opposed to the Federal Reserve. 

And after the Commodity Futures Tradition Commission (CFTC) announced its plan to use the new authority under Dodd-Frank for the first time to investigate JP Morgan’s trading loss, the right wing’s 2013 Agriculture bill would provide the CFTC $128 million less than what Obama has requested for the commission to carry out the new financial reform law.

“This [JP Morgan] investigation is a timely example of why the law was necessary and why the act should be fully funded,” Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rep. Norm Dicks said.

Senate Panel Directs DoD to Report on Status of Service Contract Inventory: The Senate Armed Services Committee is directing the Defense Department to report to the panel by July 15 on the department’s status of a service contract inventory required under a law passed 10 years ago.  In a committee report accompanying the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, the panel expressed its frustration over the department’s irresponsiveness to the 2002 law that directed DoD to establish a data collection system to keep track of its service contracts. In 2007, five years after the law passed, Congress had to amend and strengthen the law to require DoD to produce an annual inventory of contract services. Only the Army has developed an effective reporting system. In 2011, Congress once again directed DoD to adopt an approach developed by the Army. But the department decided to seek permission from the Office of Management and Budget to get data from contractors. OMB hadn’t given the green light until two weeks ago.    

AFGE Joins Dollar Coin Alliance: AFGE has formally joined the Dollar Coin Alliance (DCA), a coalition of small businesses, budget watchdogs, transit agencies and labor groups. DCA is currently supporting legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to transition to the economical $1 coin.

“AFGE has always been very serious about providing good government services to the American taxpayer,” said Beth Moten, AFGE Legislative and Political Director. “Transitioning to the $1 coin is a good step in the right direction to a modern, efficient system of currency.  All of this is done without cutting valuable government programs or raising taxes on working people.”

The Currency Optimization, Innovation and National Savings (COINS) Act (S. 2049), is designed to save the country billions of dollars by eliminating the wasteful, inefficient $1 note. The COINS Act was introduced earlier this year by a bipartisan group including Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa, John McCain of Arizona, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming. The COINS Act would require Federal Reserve Banks to stop issuing the $1 note four years after enactment of the legislation or when circulation of $1 coins exceeds 600 million annually – whichever comes first. The companion bill to the COINS Act in the House was introduced by Congressman David Schweikert of Arizona with the bipartisan support of fourteen co-sponsors. 

Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found the $1 coin transition would save the country at least $4.4 billion over a 30-year period, or $146 million per year. This finding is consistent with five previous studies issued by GAO over the past 22 years (in 1990, 1993, 1995, 2000, and 2011) indicating savings of anywhere from $184 million to $522 million per year.

Walker Keeps Job after Outspending Challenger by 10-1: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was able to keep his job only after spending nearly $30 million on TV and radio ads while his challenger Tom Barrett spent only $3 million. Walker’s war chest against the June 5 recall was mostly filled with money from outside Wisconsin, including big corporations and the notorious Americans for Prosperity founded by the anti-worker Koch Brothers. Even though Walker hung on to his seat, the right wing in Wisconsin lost their Senate majority.

Op-Ed of the Week: Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman argues in the New York Times op-ed that the economy is not in a better shape because the Obama proposals that would have boosted the economy have been blocked by right-wing obstructionists in the House. A bad economy is better for right-wing lawmakers politically as they can claim, albeit falsely, that the Obama administration’s policies failed. According to Krugman, the country has already been under the right wing economy with low taxes and deep spending cuts, but it’s clear that doesn’t work. The Obama administration, however, hasn’t done a very good job of exposing the con.

This Week in Labor History: June 4, 1912 - Massachusetts becomes the first state to establish a minimum wage.

Know Anyone Who Is Not Registered to Vote? The Federal Election Commission has a link on their website that will take you to their online registration site and allow citizens in almost every state to register. You can also click here to register to vote. Note: After filling out this form, you must send it to a state or local election office for processing. See state-specific instructions included in the form for additional information.

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” for a look back on the life of go-go music legend Chuck Brown. The show, which originally aired on Friday, June 1, is now available on demand. Brown, “The Godfather of Go-Go,” died recently at the age of 75. The program celebrated his life by revisiting a 2010 interview with Charles Stephenson, Brown’s close friend and co-author of “The Beat! Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.” Stephenson discussed the birth of go-go in the District and how Brown inspired the city through music. But first, AFGE Department of Defense Local 1708 President Bill McGuire and 4th District National Representative Kevin Droste detailed an Army regulation change that could force 40 veterans at the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point in Southport, N.C. out of their jobs. The change would require the veterans – many of whom are disabled – to pass medical and physical testing that AFGE argues is in violation of federal law. McGuire and Droste also discussed the union’s response to the situation and steps being taken to save the veterans’ jobs.

Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at FederalNewsRadio.com.

Quote of the Week

Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rep. Norm Dicks on the right wing’s bill that would weaken the new financial reform law:

“This [JP Morgan] investigation is a timely example of why the law was necessary and why the act should be fully funded.”

American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO 80 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001 | Tel. (202) 737-8700 | Fax (202) 639-6492 | www.afge.org

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