By Ann Boehm, February 10, 2021
Let’s be honest. The past administration did not hold any particular fondness for Federal employees. We can start with the whole “Drain the Swamp” thing.
Being referred to as swamp dwellers does not do much for employee morale.
The Biden Administration is trying to rebuild the morale. President Biden recognizes and values civil servants. He’s been busy in the first few weeks of his administration making that clear.
Executive Order 14003, issued just two days after the inauguration, rescinded Executive Orders 13836 (limitations on collective bargaining); 13837 (limitations on official time); 13839 (accountability for employee performance and misconduct); and 13957 (creation of at-will Schedule F employees).
Unions and federal employee advocates are cheering the administration’s efforts, and so am I. But having gone through this kind of transition several times during my own career, I am also a bit afraid of the pendulum swinging too far in favor of employee unions and in favor of protecting the bad employees.
An important part of employee morale is ensuring that agencies deal effectively with Federal labor organizations, and also with discipline problems and poor performers. Your friends here at FELTG have spent more than 20 years helping agencies do just that.
The system Congress created in the Civil Service Reform Act back in 1978 remains in place. Federal employees have many rights. But they don’t have the right to be bad employees.
I think it’s important to recognize what President Biden already has said about the Federal workforce. Executive Order 14003 begins with this statement: “Career civil servants are the backbone of the Federal workforce, providing the expertise and experience necessary for the critical functioning of the Federal Government. It is the policy of the United States to protect, empower, and rebuild the career Federal workforce. It is also policy of the United States to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.” E.O. 14003, § 1 (Jan. 22, 2021).
Beats swamp-dweller, right?
Also, in a taped message for all career staff, President Biden made these statements:
– “We’re a team … One team for one America.”
– “You are civil servants for all Americans.”
– “[T]ogether we will lead with core values … values that help us make good decisions, stay focused on what’s most important, and keep ourselves accountable, hold ourselves accountable to the American people and to our conscience.”
– “Humility, trust, collegiality, diversity, competence: these are the values that most of you look to. These are the values that form our vision for our work ahead.”
Pretty powerful stuff. If you haven’t watched the President’s video, I highly recommend that you do. And make sure your employees watch it too.
In this administration, unions are more empowered. Employees are more empowered. And yes, managers are also empowered (and protected – be very thankful that Schedule F is gone). What’s critically important in this more positive environment is for every Federal employee to make sure that the American people come first.
How do agencies ensure that this happens? I recommend that agency managers, labor-relations specialists, and labor relations attorneys reach out to their bargaining unit representatives. Communicate effectively. Talk about the rescinded Executive Orders. Work together to ensure the President’s goals are achieved, keeping in mind that the goal for all is to stay mission focused and help the public.
Also continue to take appropriate action to handle those performance and misconduct problems that impact negatively on the morale of the many outstanding civil servants. Even the President’s speech noted that “most” of the career civil servants embrace the values he highlighted. Those who don’t should be handled as Congress envisioned in 1978, through the discipline or performance routes.
It’s good to be a Federal employee. It always has been. Now you have the support of the administration. You can focus on your mission. You can take care of the American people. And that’s good news! Boehm@FELTG.com