Eric Katz | March 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Pension Reforms, Punishments for Porn Watchers Advance

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., is the author of the pension reforms. Andrew Harnik/AP file photo

A House committee approved several bills aimed at reforming the federal workforce, including a pension reform for union officials who receive government paychecks.

Two of the measures would bring changes to the practice of official time, with one earning fierce opposition from Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The more controversial Official Time Reform Act would prevent employees from counting days worked at least 80 percent on union representational duties toward their retirement pensions. It would also prevent employees from engaging in lobbying while on official time.

The second measure, demanding the Office of Personnel Management issue more regular reports on official time usage, received less pushback.

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The pension reform amounted to an attack on official time in general, Democrats on the committee said, which they called essential to dispute resolution and whistleblower protection. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., who authored the bill, said the measure would not take away anyone’s right to work on official time.

“It will allow anyone working on official time to do so as much as they want to,” Hice said. “It just takes away the financial incentive.”

The American Federation of Government Employees called the bill “union busting” that would “silence the voice of workers.”

“Federal managers and their employees are fully competent to negotiate the terms of official time, when it is needed, how much is needed, and where it should be used to address unique agency and workplace issues,” AFGE wrote in a letter to the oversight committee.

In a similar letter, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers said it was more efficient for one employee to work 100 percent on official time than for two to split their time between union and official agency business.

“For civil servants to be able to do their jobs effectively and to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal,” IFPTE wote, “they must have credible and effective representation, independent of management, that can interact at all levels of government to provide decision-makers with a more balanced and complete picture to allow for better and more informed overall governance.”

Also in the markup, the committee approved the Eliminating Pornography From Agencies Act. The panel also signed off on the bill from Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., in the last Congress, though it never received a vote on the House floor. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to issue governmentwide guidance prohibiting access to pornographic websites on federal computers. Currently, Meadows said, agencies maintain a patchwork of disparate rules on the subject.

The issue came to the forefront in 2014, when an Environmental Protection Agency inspector general report found an employee spent between two and six hours per day viewing pornography while at work. The employee had downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic files during duty hours.

Meadows cautioned he was not trying to paint with a broad brush, saying the bill would “raise up the level of the federal workforce.”

“This in no way is meant to disparage the federal workforce,” he said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, called federal porn watchers the “seediest of the bad apples” who “need serious help.”

The committee also approved the Federal Intern Protection Act to provide interns all the discrimination protections afforded to regular federal employees. The panel had passed the measure in the previous Congress. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who introduced the bill, said federal interns “sacrifice tremendously,” and it was unfair the federal workers who mentor them are protected while the interns themselves are not.

Another source of significant debate and contention stemmed from a non-binding resolution from Chaffetz, the committee chairman, to move federal offices out of the Washington, D.C., area. The measure would encourage agencies to distribute throughout the country “the economic and employment benefits associated” with federal jobs “when possible and expedient.” The panel approved the resolution over significant pushback from Democrats, especially those representing the capital region. 

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