Cabinet Nominees Discuss the Rank and File
While Senate confirmation hearings have focused mostly on major policy issues of concern, The Eye – with the assistance of washingtonpost.com's Sarah Lovenheim and intern Ethan Klapper – also reviewed the hearing transcripts for comments about the federal workforce. Workplace and employee issues were not discussed at every confirmation hearing, but several nominees voiced their views on the rank and file, how they plan to work with them, and other thoughts on changing the workplace. Here are their comments in chronological order:
Department of Health and Human Services
“I want to take ideology and politics as much as humanly possible out of the process and leave the scientists to do their job,” Tom Daschle said last week during his confirmation hearing to lead HHS. His comments came in response to a question posed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who represents thousands of HHS employees who live in Maryland.
“I think it's very important for us to allow scientists to be scientists and to give them the resources to do it right,” Daschle said later. “And so it starts with that. It starts with the importance of giving them the autonomy they need, without fear of conflict at some point with others along the decision-making process regarding factors having nothing to do with science.”
Housing and Urban Development
Secretary-designate Shaun Donovan identified several areas in need of improvement at HUD:
“There are challenges and persistent management issues facing HUD, including modernizing I.T. systems, overhauling sluggish human resource systems and strengthening contract oversight,” he told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
“It is critical that we restore HUD as a respected research institution as well. Both you and I need to know what works based on objective analysis and reliable data so that taxpayer dollars can be spent wisely and effectively. I pledge to make management reform a high priority,” he added in his opening remarks.
It seems HUD employees can expect a data-driven boss, because Donovan called himself “a numbers guy. I'm somebody who always wants to know -- I meet monthly with every single team within my agency. I have a series of critical indicators that demonstrate progress to me or where we're not making progress in the agency.”
Office of Personnel Management
Peter R. Orszag addressed the issue of the impending federal “brain drain” during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee:
“Over the next decade, roughly 60 percent of the federal government's 1.6 million white-collar employees and 90 percent of the 6,000 federal executives will be eligible to retire.
“To mitigate and offset these expected retirements, we need to take a number of actions, including, perhaps most importantly, as President-elect Obama has said, making government cool again.
“We need to dramatically improve the federal hiring process, and we need to provide more opportunities for civil servants to rise to policy-level offices so that they can aspire to doing -- to seeing the results of their hard work in promotions.”
Environmental Protection Agency
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, urged EPA administrator-designate Lisa P. Jackson to work on morale issues at EPA, stressing at one point she wants the agency to focus on “Science science science, and the rule of law.”
“I would see nothing more important to restoring the health of the people of the United States than restoring the health of the Environmental Protection Agency itself,” Jackson told the committee.
In her opening statement to the committee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the designated Secretary of State, praised her new employees:
“Many risk their lives, and some have lost their lives in service to our nation. They need and deserve the resources, training and support to succeed.”
“State Department is a large, multidimensional organization but not the placid, idle bureaucracy that some have suggested. It is an outpost for American values that protects our citizens and safeguards our democratic institutions in times both turbulent and tame. State Department employees offer a lifeline of hope and help, often the only lifeline for people in foreign lands who are oppressed, silenced and marginalized. We must not shortchange them or ourselves.”
"One of my first priorities is to make sure that the State Department and USAID have the resources they need, and I will be back to make the case to the committee for full funding of the president's budget requests. But I will work just as hard to make sure we manage those resources prudently, efficiently and effectively."
Department of Agriculture
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack about the protection of potential USDA whistleblowers.
“My hope would be that we never have to have a whistleblower,” Vilsack said. “My hope would be that, if confirmed, we would run a department where employees who felt that they were not being treated fairly had some avenue within the department for resolution and that we were fair and reasonable in trying to resolve difficulties.”
“If we've -- if, for whatever reason, we fail in that effort, despite the effort, there needs -- obviously needs to be a way in which you can do your constitutionally required job of making sure that I'm doing my constitutionally required job and I don't have a problem with that. And I don't think we're going to tolerate punishment or making it more difficult for people to tell the truth.”
Department of Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano was asked during her confirmation hearing about low morale at DHS. Sen Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) asked her to discuss how the department could recruit, train and maintain skilled employees.
“We start with the premise that the men and women of this department want to work to keep America safe. That's why they're here. That is their mission. And so we start with the good will,” Napolitano replied.
“We want to provide, for employees, a sense of being part of this very important mission, and some real career paths for them, so that if they begin at a low-level position, say, in the TSA, they know that over the course of their career, if they perform well, they can advance, and that it's a -- it's a -- it's a real career path for them. Those are the kinds of things that make for good morale, and those are the kinds of things that we will be working on.”
Department of Justice
During his opening statement, Eric Holder acknowledged the work of DOJ’s career employees.
“They have been my teachers, my colleagues, and my friends. When I first joined the department's public integrity section in 1976, they showed me what it meant to serve the people.
“When I was the United States attorney in the District of Columbia, they worked beside me to fight drug crimes, drug trafficking, and public corruption. And when I was deputy attorney general of the United States, they were my troops in the daily battle for justice.
“These career professionals are not only the backbone of the Department of Justice, they are its soul. If I am confirmed as attorney general, I will listen to them, respect them, and make them proud of the vital goals we will pursue together.”
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