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Obama's Letters to Federal Workers

By Ed O'Keefe

During the course of the presidential campaign, Barack Obama sent letters to the head of one of the largest federal employee unions, discussing specific issues at eight departments or agencies. As The Post's Carol Leonnig reports today, then-candidate Obama outlined how he intended to strengthen certain government programs, give new power to federal workers and scale back some Bush administration policies.

All of the letters were addressed to John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, who requested information he could share with union members when he met with Obama over the summer.

AFGE received the letters in late October and "We did release them when we got them," said AFGE spokesman Michael Victorian. The letters were not posted on the AFGE Web site however to reduce the chance of federal workers viewing political material on government time or on a government computer, Victorian said.

"We weren't hiding anything. This is something we shared with our members to give them a reason for why we endorsed him."

Here are links to the letters Obama wrote and interesting nuggets from each:

Department of Defense: "Based on my conversations with DoD civilian employees, I have several concerns about the [National Security Personnel System] pay system, including the aforementioned restrictions on bargaining rights... ... I am fully aware that DoD's civilian employees are the Department's backbone, without which our troops would never be able to conduct operations in an effective manner."

Housing and Urban Development: "We plan specifically to look at work that is being contracted out to ensure that it is fiscally responsible and effective. It is dishonest to claim real savings by reducing the number of HUD employees overseeing a program but increase the real cost of the program by transferring oversight to contractors. I pledge to reverse this poor management practice."

Department of Homeland Security: "I am also pleased to see the so-called 'pay–for-performance' system advanced by the Bush Administration has finally been withdrawn. While I strongly believe that workers can and should be rewarded for high quality work, any such recognition program must not reward one employee at the expense of another. This is unfair and serves to reduce morale, rather than improve it."

Department of Labor: "As you know, one of the worst disasters of the Bush Administration has been the Department’s failure to ensure mine safety. In my Department of Labor, the Administrator of Mine Safety and Health will be an advocate for miners’ safety and health, not for the mining companies’ bottom lines. Our mine safety program will have the staffing and the enforcement tools needed to get the job done."

Environmental Protection Agency: "The mission of the EPA is to protect the environment of the nation. In recent years, however, the pursuit of this goal has slowed, and in some cases, has been jeopardized outright. This is due to the failed leadership of the past eight years, despite the strong and ongoing commitment of the career individuals throughout this agency. During this same period, inadequate funding for the EPA has resulted in the ineffective allocation of resources, thus weakening enforcement and oversight of many environmental laws and regulations that protect the American people."

Transportation Security Administration: "Advocating for [Transportation Security Officers] to receive collective bargaining rights and workplace protections will be a priority for my administration. It is unacceptable for TSOs to work under unfair rules and without workplace protections – this makes it more difficult for them to perform their jobs. Since 2001, TSA has had the unfettered ability to deny its workforce even the most basic labor rights and protections. Other law enforcement officers – from Border Patrol Agents to Federal Protective Officers to the U.S. Capitol Police—all have collective bargaining rights."

Veterans Affairs: "I recently cosponsored legislation to end the unpredictability and inadequacy of VA’s discretionary funding process and instead, use an advance appropriations process that would allow Congress to provide VA health care dollars in advance and allow for improved planning and predictability. My Administration will recommend passage of advance appropriation legislation for the FY 2010 appropriations cycle, instead of yearly continuing resolutions that lead to delays in hiring and facility construction. I will also work to fully fund veterans care."

Social Security Administration: "...there is a critical need to increase funding for the SSA administrative expenses account to address the serious challenges facing the agency. ... As of August 2008, about 767,000 people were awaiting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge on their Social Security disability claims, compared to about 312,000 cases pending in October 2000. ... Second, I want assure you that I will continue to strongly oppose Social Security privatization."

Obama also authored a letter concerning the Bureau of Prisons that was not included in Leonnig's reporting:

"Budget pressures have forced BOP to rely on overtime for current correctional staff instead of hiring additional staff, leaving the correctional workforce spread thin," Obama wrote in the letter. "Budget pressures also have resulted in prison inmate overcrowding getting worse, often forcing BOP to house prison inmates in makeshift quarters in many institutions."

Obama transition review teams will likely review or address many of the specifics in these letters.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 17, 2008; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Next: More Reaction to Obama's Union Letters


I guess DOJ employees didn't receive the letter. That's a shame, because all we have received over the past 8 years from Ashcroft, Gonzo and the current guy was two letters, "F" and "U".

Posted by: pookiecat | November 17, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

What about the Department of Health, shouldn't they have gotten and deserve a letter?

Posted by: cdac44 | November 17, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

If Obama is to be commended for sending out letters;
Why isn't he being challenged in this column for refusing to provide his 1961 birth certificate?"

His alleged "Certification of Live Birth" is nothing more than a document that says he was born somewhere (Kenya or wherever) to his mother who was an American citizen, and; that he was not hatched or come from from outerspace.

Posted by: Archarito | November 17, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

So, he got federal employee votes by promising every major department raises and budget increases? Guess he's off to a great start on the fiscal discipline front.

Posted by: the_unpopular_truth | November 17, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

As for Obama's birth certificate, try this:

Posted by: murphyb74 | November 17, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse


You do know that there was an election on November 4th, the first Tuesday in November and President-Elect Obama won the election, 364 electoral votes to 163 right? I mean, are you really going to go on and on about his birth certificate? You do realize to be in the Senate, sit on certain committees he has to have a clearance. To receive a clearance you have to prove that you are a citizen and obviously to be President, not a "naturalized" citizen. Let go, its o.k.

Posted by: ajackson3 | November 17, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

It is conclusively clear factcheck did nothing pertinent to verify Obama is a natural born citizen as required by the Constitution.
They did not do a forensics document examination of his "Certification of Live Birth."(COLB)
Nor is a "Certification of Live Birth" the same as a "Certificate of Live Birth!" In Hawaii a Certificate is given to someone born in a hospital, whereas; a Certfication is given to someone who is born somewhere in the world to a Hawaiian resident.
Nor does factcheck investigate Barack's four different citzenships that preclude him from being a natural born citizen.

BARACK OBAMA - Where is Your Birth Certificate?

Posted by: Archarito | November 17, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse


You do know that there was an election on November 4th, the first Tuesday in November and President-Elect Obama won the election, 364 electoral votes to 163 right? I mean, are you really going to go on and on about his birth certificate? You do realize to be in the Senate, sit on certain committees he has to have a clearance. To receive a clearance you have to prove that you are a citizen and obviously to be President, not a "naturalized" citizen. Let go, its o.k.
Exactly. He has to prove he is not a naturalized citizen which he has not yet done.
Presenting his birth certificate which any American could easily do would resolve the problem. Why doesn't he?
Why does he prevent voters from seeing his original birth certificate?

Posted by: Archarito | November 17, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The voters must demand integrity from politicians begin somewhere, don't they?

Respecting Constitutional qualfications seems like the obvious first step.

Posted by: Archarito | November 17, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

These letters are a blatant and defiant example of Obama's disregard of the law.
Such communication, even if one way is an unlawful political tool to obtain votes. I hope all of the recepients understand that Obama cannot possibly unilaterally, or even through Congress keep the promises made. We do not live in a dictatorship, and we will soon find out that the Emperor Has No Clothes.

Posted by: mtleon | November 17, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

In Lois Romano's column today, readers were trying to claim that the letters were only distributed after the election, but this column shows that that's not true.

So why is the Post only reporting on these letters after the election?

Posted by: tomtildrum | November 17, 2008 5:35 PM | Report abuse

The new administration must change the current policy existing in some government agencies that workers cannot grieve how work is assigned. This practice has been as punishment against conscientious civil servants whose jobs are targeted for contracting out or who've somehow gotten on the bad side of a supervisor who now wants to get rid of that person but has no legal justification for doing so. It is hard to raise your performance level when you are denied increased assignments and this undermines the official goal of raising government workforce standards and productivity. Capable civil servants should be allowed to work.

Posted by: KyzlOrda | November 17, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse


You are a loser. And quite possibly the most uninformed person on this site.

Posting that garbage on a completely non-related subject only shows your blatant disinterest in the actual federal employee topic.

But I love the ridiculous comment "Respecting constitutional qualifications seems like the obvious first step." Well, Obama was a Harvard-educated constitutional law professor for 10 years. I dare say he knows more about the constitution than you, hence your "unqualified" statement is quite humorous.

Posted by: dcunited99 | November 18, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Folks there is not going to be a 11th Hr
call and all of a sudden Obama will be out of office. So get off it it. I voted for Mac too. He loss move on. As far as writting letters to the head of Unions. Plz tell me in what election has not the person who wants the Union votes has not written a letter and/or said they would give the stars and moon for them. He might be able to do sosme of the things he stated but not everything. Do not forget that nothing has changed in Washington, Dem still can not stop the Rep. The power changed in the white house is all. Wait and see nothing is going to change. There is going to be pork spending as always, maybe some more anti smoking laws passed, some EPA things, a few trade change. Maybe a draw down in Military (Is that so bad?), Hopefuly with Bill's old guys in there the Budget get some rework. and besides ANYONE IS BETTER THEM BUSH. Give the guy a chance and if he fall flat on his face so will all the Dem and in 2 years the Rep can take over the Sen and House and 2 years after that the white House again. Give it a rest He won we lost. Now it is time to move on and work for 2010 and 2012.

Posted by: rslavin | November 18, 2008 10:02 PM | Report abuse

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