Obama's Letters to Federal Workers
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am also pleased to see the so-called 'pay–for-performance' system advanced by the Bush Administration has finally been withdrawn.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.
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