Union official, FEMA clash over morale issues

A federal labor union official on Monday called on Congress to help "rescue" the Federal Emergency Management Agency from sinking morale, while an agency official countered that he was not speaking for the entire FEMA workforce.

In a letter to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the head of an American Federation of Government Employees local representing FEMA employees highlighted what he said were growing management problems at the agency.

Leo Bosner, president of AFGE Local 4060, recommended that Congress remove FEMA from the Homeland Security Department, largely because FEMA's mission focuses on responding to emergencies rather than the DHS mission of preventing them. He also suggested enlisting the Government Accountability Office or another independent organization to conduct a full review of agency operations.

"Since Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has become associated with waste, incompetence, mismanagement and the abuse of the power and resources given it by Congress," Bosner wrote.

FEMA ranked 211 out of 222 subcomponent agencies across government in the 2007 Best Places to Work rankings, released this month by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. The agency received a score of 47.5 out of 100 for overall employee satisfaction.

There is no doubt that FEMA is facing significant challenges, said Deidre Lee, the agency's director of management and acquisition, at an event unveiling the rankings earlier this month. "We do have issues," she said. "It does impact employees to open up a newspaper and read something negative about their agency."

First, FEMA was merged into DHS in March 2003, where it lost its independence and singular focus on disaster response, Lee said. In late August 2005 came Hurricane Katrina, which quickly put the agency's organizational failures in the spotlight.

"Somehow, the exemplary government agency of the 1990s has become a glaring example of government incompetence," Bosner said. "FEMA employees continue to report problems that hamper emergency operations, waste public funds and hurt employee morale."

AFGE attributed many of FEMA's troubles to a lack of strong leadership. Bosner said he has tried to contact David Paulison, the agency's director, numerous times to discuss employee morale problems, but each time has been declined. The union recommended that the Bush administration replace Paulison.

But Aaron Walker, a FEMA spokesman, said Paulison is very supportive of union representation and has made a point to attend or have another FEMA leader attend quarterly labor-management meetings to discuss concerns surrounding employee morale. Walker said Bosner has not attended the meetings.

"Rather than sending out worthless letters, he should attend the [labor-management] meetings to address these concerns," Walker said.

Walker added that Bosner represents only about 80 dues-paying workers out of a total of almost 2,000 employees at the agency.

"I would argue that letters like this actually bring down the morale at FEMA," Walker said. "You have one man claiming he speaks for thousands when he speaks for tens."

Bosner said he does not attend the labor-management meetings because they typically last two days and give unions only one hour to ask questions. "We're not going to go to the meetings because we have tons of pages of serious questions," he said. Walker said he is optimistic that the 2007 hurricane season and beyond will put FEMA in a different light, especially as it proves its ability to effectively meet the needs of disaster victims.

"We're trying to strengthen our employee communications so that employees don't feel as though they're in a vacuum in terms of receiving information," he said. "We've implemented a number of changes brought forth by Katrina, and I think you're going to see a rise in the morale of employees across FEMA."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.