Key senator criticizes early Bush management moves

A leading Republican lawmaker criticized the Bush administration Thursday for scrapping labor-management partnerships and failing to link federal management reforms to this year's budget process. In a speech to the Council for Excellence in Government, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he was "disappointed" with the administration's decision to revoke the Clinton-era executive order that required agencies to establish partnership councils to increase union involvement in agency decision-making. Voinovich said he has asked the administration to rethink this action and hinted that labor-management partnerships could re-emerge in some form. Voinovich, a former governor of Ohio, said he had sent Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill an outline of a labor-management partnership agreement used in Ohio that might be more acceptable to the administration. "I believe that they are going to revisit that issue," Voinovich said. Voinovich also expressed dismay over statements made by Sean O'Keefe, President Bush's nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee this week. O'Keefe said the administration would not be able to link agencies' budgets with performance initiatives in the fiscal 2002 budget. "I was concerned, and I told [OMB Director] Mitch Daniels that you had better be concerned, because this might bite you in the first year," Voinovich said. O'Keefe did not respond to a request for comment on Voinovich's remarks. At his confirmation hearing, O'Keefe said that the overwhelming chore of preparing a budget on short notice would preclude the administration from tying agency budgets to performance until the fiscal 2003 budget cycle. "To get to the level of [budgetary detail] where specific [management] initiatives are included in the budget takes time," said O'Keefe after the hearing. Voinovich noted that the shortened transition had hampered the administration's efforts to assemble the budget. "The three weeks they missed were very devastating to this administration," he said. "They have had to put the budget together very quickly." The senator said efforts to "de-layer" the federal government by eliminating management jobs must vary from agency to agency. "Some agencies are shaped the right way," he said. "Others have real problems." OMB's Daniels last week directed agencies to incorporate specific de-layering goals into their fiscal 2002 performance plans, which are due to Congress April 3. Voinovich, who is chairman of the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia, announced he would hold two joint hearings with the House Civil Service Subcommittee on what he and others have called a "human capital crisis" in the federal government. "[Civil Service Subcommittee Chair] Joe Scarborough and I are going to give this issue a higher profile," said Voinovich. He additionally pledged to hold hearings on the management challenges identified in the General Accounting Office's "high-risk" list.

In December, Voinovich's Subcommittee released a report on human capital challenges. In his speech, Voinovich also outlined a few legislative proposals that would improve agencies' ability to recruit and retain skilled workers. He urged the Bush administration to fully fund agencies' training budgets, and said that all agencies should be able to experiment with broad-band pay schemes and flexible hiring practices currently in use at the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Aviation Administration. Voinovich did not criticize an administration plan to give federal workers an average 3.6 percent pay hike next year. President Bush has proposed giving military personnel a 4.6 percent raise next year, de-linking military and civilian raises for the first time since 1987.

Voinovich urged the administration to quickly appoint a highly qualified person to serve as deputy director for management at OMB. "The good news is they haven't found the wrong person," he said. "[But] they haven't found someone to head up management duties [yet]. I feel bad about that."

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