The spirit of unanimity that has pervaded federal operations at all levels in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dissolved this week as representatives of federal workers' unions and senior federal executives sparred over benefits proposals--and the issue of who was doing the most to safeguard the nation from further attacks. It started on Monday, when President Bush unveiled his proposed Managerial Flexibility Act of 2001 in a speech to members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). The bill would raise the cap on total compensation for members of the SES and other high-paid civil servants from the pay rate for Cabinet secretaries to the pay rate for the vice president. Cabinet secretaries earn $161,200 this year. The Vice President makes $186,300. The bill would also aid in efforts to recruit executives from outside government by allowing SESers to automatically accrue eight hours of annual leave per biweekly pay period, or 26 vacation days per year. Unions were quick to denounce the proposal in unusually harsh terms. Bobby L. Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, described the legislation as a "let-them-eat-cake approach to the human capital challenges facing the federal government." He said the legislation "would bestow lavish salary increases, bonuses, accelerated leave accrual, and relaxation of accountability for senior executives, and provide absolutely nothing for anyone else." Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Bush's proposal amounted to a "windfall for senior executives." Moreover, she said, the bill sends "the wrong message at the wrong time as front-line employees work overtime to safeguard our nation and deliver essential programs and services, during this critical time in our nation's history." In a letter to both Kelley and Harnage Wednesday, Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, took issue with their criticism of the Bush proposal. She noted that none of its provisions would increase SES pay, but would simply allow executives who receive major performance bonuses to collect them immediately, rather than forcing the government to spread them out over two or more years. Likewise, she noted, the annual leave proposal would only affect executives hired from outside government, not current executives. Bonosaro urged Kelley and Harnage to avoid criticizing federal employees above the rank-and-file level. "I would urge that-given especially the state our country is in at present and the demands being placed on the federal government, as well as the perennial myriad of human resource issues which affect the federal workforce-the last thing that we all need is for the representatives of federal employees of different levels to be sniping at each other," she wrote.
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