The new administration’s early positions on civilian federal employees, along with the revival of the Holman Rule by congressional Republicans, are worrying rank and file feds — and their unions are looking for support on Capitol Hill.
Concerned employees, union members and Democratic lawmakers voiced their concerns at a March 2 lunchtime rally held by the National Treasury Employee Union near the Capitol. NTEU represents 150,000 employees from 31 federal agencies and departments.
Environmental Protection Agency attorney Joe Edgell told FCW that “morale is low” at his agency in the wake of the White House’s hiring freeze and proposed budget guidance, which he said have “made it harder for people to get their work done.”
“One of the reasons it’s low is because of uncertainty,” he said. “The sooner the White House and Congress can figure out what they’re going to do, I think employees will be somewhat more comfortable. It’s better to know bad news directly than have them speculate about it.”
Edgell, who is also an EPA union leader, said that while the hiring freeze has not yet yielded “direct, observable effects” at EPA, it prevents agencies from filling jobs that come open due to natural attrition — through retirements or employees accepting other jobs.
Edgell added that, on the heels of the president’s freeze order, career leadership at the EPA “imposed an additional freeze that limits mobility within the agency” to keep employees working on their current tasks.
Another EPA employee, who asked not to be identified, called the proposed cuts “absurd” and “demoralizing to the workforce,” and added that if severely cutting agency resources is to be the administration’s way of doing business, “you might as well shutter the agency.”
Donna Ingram, an employee with the Internal Revenue Service, told FCW that feds also are concerned about the revival of the previously little-known Holman Rule and Congress’s ability to “reduce pay at will.”
An employee with the Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, told FCW the early moves of the new administration have left federal workers “feeling under threat.”
“It’s an imaginary idea that you can cut the budgets of these agencies and not hurt people,” the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “We understand that political decisions are going to change, but you need federal employees to carry them out.”
A recent online NTEU survey of 877 employees in leadership positions at local NTEU chapters echoed these employees’ concerns.
Just under two-thirds of respondents reported their agency’s funding is insufficient to fulfilling its mission, and 54.6 percent said their agency is understaffed.
Additionally, 80.8 percent of respondents said morale at their agency is “declining or poor,” and 78.5 percent reported that employees are worried about their job security.
Congressional democrats are looking to legislation to improve conditions for feds. In January, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) reintroduced his bill to increase federal pay by 3.2 percent. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y) offered a bill in February to offer federal employees compensation during parental leave.
Those two lawmakers joined their House colleagues Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in addressing the crowd at the rally.
Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.
Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.
Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.
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