Unions wary of Obama’s consolidation plans

Federal employee unions Friday responded with reserved skepticism to President Obama's proposal to merge several federal trade- and business-related functions throughout government.

The Consolidation Authority Act, which would allow Obama to fast-track through Congress a plan to whittle away at six major departments and agencies that handle business and trade, would eliminate some 1,000 to 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs through attrition -- a move the White House expects would save $3 billion during the decade, officials said Friday. Many of the job eliminations would be in "administrative support areas," Jeff Zients, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director of management, said during a conference call with reporters. "When you consolidate, you can have more efficiency and be more streamlined in your support functions across the board," he said.

The proposed reorganization affects the Commerce Department, Small Business Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Obama also seeks to elevate SBA to Cabinet-level status.

National Federation of Federal Employees National President William Dougan said while the "proposal shows promise for rooting out inefficiencies, the fact that a restructuring could lead to large-scale layoffs is a very serious concern."

He noted, "With millions of American workers already unemployed, we are looking for proposals that create jobs, not eliminate them. Our sincere hope is that as these federal agencies are reconfigured, they find a way to make sure thousands of people working in these agencies aren't given pink slips."

The Obama administration sought input on the reorganization effort from federal employees through websites, applications and forms, Zients said. "Many of the best ideas come from front-line employees, and we've got great people on the front line in the federal government," he said.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents employees at most of the affected agencies, said he welcomed the elevation of SBA administrator to a Cabinet-level position, but was "eager" to review the rest of the details of the plan, taking issue with what he called Obama's "notion that most of government is inefficient and that cutting federal workers will somehow solve the problem."

He added, "Federal employees and supervisors are only carrying out the work that has been created by Congress and elected officials, who have mandated these various layers of bureaucracy largely for political gains."

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