GAO employees to vote on union

Agency analysts say they want a voice in personnel issues that affect their pay

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An employees union could be in the Government Accountability Office’s future if GAO analysts formally decide later this  year to unionize.

Officials from the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers and GAO have begun a series of meetings to work out details for what will be the first union representation election in the agency’s 86-year history. The election is likely to take place in late spring or early summer, union officials said.

The federation filed a petition May 9 to form a union after a majority of about 1,500 GAO analysts voted to unionize. Jamie Horwitz, a federation spokesman, declined to specify the number of analysts who signed cards requesting a vote for unionization.

“We received cards from a majority of analysts in Washington and in field offices around the country,” Horwitz said. “We still have cards coming in because people want to show their commitment.”

Steve Berke, a GAO senior analyst who supports unionization, said more than half of the agency’s analysts signed cards. which “indicates how an election might go.”

In voting to support a representation election, GAO analysts expressed concern about a range of employee issues, especially those related to the agency’s pay-for-performance system, implemented in 2004. Employees say they had little input into the system’s structure and management.

“The result is that it has hurt teamwork and morale,” Horwitz said.

In a statement, Comptroller General David Walker said the agency’s management has complied with all applicable labor laws and GAO employee orders. He said GAO is “prepared to support a timely election process if the union meets related requirements for a vote.”

Walker has been a vocal advocate for establishing a culture of performance in government and particularly for pay-for-
performance systems. GAO has often been cited as a model agency for merit-based pay systems in government.

Nonetheless, there has been an undercurrent of unhappiness at GAO about the pay-for-performance system, one analyst said. GAO’s employees say unionizing will help engender a more collaborative environment.
“I believe GAO’s pay-and-performance system could benefit from the input of its employees,” said another analyst, Gay Hee Lee, who has worked at GAO for five years.

“It would make the system more transparent and objective and would make us as employees more accountable because we would have an active part in its implementation,” Lee said.

A joint congressional hearing is scheduled for May 22 to examine GAO’s employee reforms.
A question of rankingMany Government Accountability Office analysts voted to support unionization, so it might seem surprising that GAO was recently ranked the second best place to work in government in an independent study by the Partnership for Public Service and American University’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation.
Researchers said  the rankings were based on the Office of Personnel Management’s 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey, which included responses from more than 220,000 civil servants.

However, said Steve Berke, a senior analyst at GAO, the agency’s ranking was based on a different survey than the OPM human capital questionnaire, creating an “apples-to-oranges comparison” between GAO and other agencies.

“We were given a different survey than the human capital survey that the executive branch agencies were given,” Berke said. “Several of the questions that were asked of us in our survey were transposed and compared to the results of the human capital survey.”

In response, Robert Tobias, director of the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation, said, “That is not accurate. The three questions [in the GAO survey] that we used to provide an overall ranking were the exact same questions that were used in the federal human capital survey.”

Tobias agreed that “the balance of GAO’s survey is different.” As a result, he said, GAO is not included in the subcategories in the best places rankings, such as employee skills/mission match and strategic leadership.

“GAO is not rated and ranked in the categories because we don’t have matching questions,” Tobias said.

— Richard W. Walker

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