Letters to the Editor

Mixed reaction

Federal Computer Week received numerous letters in regard to Bureaucratus' April 12 column, "Managers should not be paid overtime," about proposed legislation allowing federal managers to receive overtime pay. A sample of the letters follows.

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Your article had some valid arguments as far as they went, but you know little about crisis management.

I've worked for 36 years as an analytical chemist at the Food and Drug Administration. I can plan my workload, but it still is restrained by staffing levels. The nature of our work is that we have a continuum of easily programmed work, with occasional, seemingly random bursts of additional work caused by some adverse discovery in a firm or in a batch of analytical samples. So one event creates at least two waves of increased workload. Couple that with normally random personnel or work events, and you often have difficult situations that can be handled only by generous comp/credit hours or overtime.

The FDA tries to anticipate crises, but we cannot plan staffing and budgets for crazies who put cyanide in Tylenol or tamper with baby formula. We cannot plan for mistakes like fire retardant in cattle feed or a sudden discovery of a contaminant like PCBs in fish or cattle. A budget line like that would be laughed out of Congress. And then there is the occasional senator at election time who stirs up concern over a baby food "contaminant" so she or he can be in the headlines. All these take tremendous amounts of resources to address. Overtime happens. There is no chance of hiring qualified personnel, and temporary duty assignments are lethal to budgets, so talk to Congress. And the FDA is not the only agency that handles crises.

In 36 years, I have never heard of anyone in FDA ever being recruited or coerced for overtime. Everyone volunteered. Some have even "loaned" personal funds when the budget did not meet needs to purchase analytical samples.

Our best analysts are GS-12 and -13s. Some are managers, some not, but even back in the 1960s and 1970s, total overtime pay for them was less than regular pay. But we worked, sometimes in 12-hour shifts. Now, explain again why we do not deserve real overtime pay.

Russell Ayers

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Regarding the proposed legislation to increase overtime pay to those classified as GS-15 Step One level, there are two issues here that need to be separated:

1. The federal government is full of non-supervisory, technical GS-12 to -15s, many of whom put in many 40-plus hours per week.

2. These folks may be authorized overtime pay while managers may not.

Just because the Federal Managers Association is encouraging passage of the legislation, it does not presume that all managers would be offered overtime pay. It might mean a separate classification would have to be designed to clarify the distinction between non-supervisory and management positions.

I agree with your opinion that managers should not be paid overtime for extra hours worked, just as salaried managers in the commercial sector are not paid overtime. However, commercial sector managers who perform admirably are in a position to receive much larger performance bonuses than federal employees will ever see. At my agency, my understanding of the current rewards and recognition system limits total performance bonuses to $8,000 annually for each employee, regardless of grade. That's a far cry from bonuses that are 25 to 100 percent of annual salary, which I frequently hear about in the commercial sector.

Also, in the commercial sector, managers often don't earn the same or higher salary than some of their subordinates, for example truckers, warehousemen, plumbers, electricians, etc.

By this time you probably think I'm a GS-13 or higher manager. Not true. I'm a GS-12 non-supervisory employee. I just recognize that the world is full of injustice and inequity. A federal employee at any level better get used to it if public service is their heart's desire and career goal.

Name withheld by request

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I disagree with your point for two reasons.

1. It is in federal law that the manager can be increased in step to make more money than the employees under him. I think that there has always been the intent that the manager make more than those who work for him or her.

2. You have complained bitterly over the past few years about federal wages not keeping pace with industry. I was surprised to see your opinion that federal managers should work for free.

Government has conducted many cutbacks over the years. Most organizations have been flattened. Much work has been contracted out. Federal workers at all levels have to work long hours to get the job done. Why should someone make a lower hourly rate during overtime than during regular time? Many people above a GS-10 Step One are not managers.

I guess my second point is that people should be adequately compensated for work. GS-11s, -12s, -13s and -14s are not salaried. They are paid hourly. In industry, salaried managers get big bonuses for getting the job done. Federal workers are lucky to get their step increases, forget about bonuses.

P. David MathisU.S. Army HeadquartersOperational Test and Evaluation CommandAlexandria, Va.

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I find it interesting that you state that the reason for the GS-10 Step One cap is that workers above that level are professionals and that professionals are not paid overtime.

Self-employed professionals like doctors, lawyers and computer specialists may not be paid overtime per se, but they certainly do not take a cut in hourly wage once they reach 40 hours in a week either. Most of the doctors, lawyers and computer professionals that I know that work for private companies are properly remunerated for overtime hours. The "high grade" overtime problem affects far more people than managers.

If you looked at Career Channels in the April 12 FCW, you found 14 job vacancies. Thirteen of the vacancies were for jobs graded higher than GS-10, yet only two of these jobs were managerial/supervisory in nature. Every one of the individuals that eventually will fill these positions, by your reasoning, should be expected to work overtime hours for less money than they get for working regular hours. I guess that they should be glad that they have a government job and the attendant job security.

The attitude that you have expressed in your column surprises me. What is wrong with anyone, regardless of their pay grade, wanting to be fairly paid, for overtime worked? It isn't as if most people want to work overtime. In these days of manpower cuts, overtime is mandated by a workload that has not shrunk one-tenth as quickly as the associated manpower has departed. And cheap overtime, overtime that costs less than a standard hour's wage, is often used by managers to avoid filling a vacant slot.

In the meantime, the worker is stuck with missing buses or being forced to drive a solo commute to cover the expected hours.

David B. RaschenSupervisory information management specialistSpace and Missile Defense CommandU.S. Army

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Just how long have you been retired? Federal managers have always been recompensed for overtime since I began working here in 1983. The big difference is managers take compensatory time in lieu of pay due to the overtime penalty.

If you look across the federal spectrum, the resultant effect would likely be hiring additional managers to replace those who are on compensatory time. This would yield a cost far greater than the difference between GS-10 Step One and GS-15 Step One (at 1.5 times base pay) since the replacement workers would yield full benefits as well as standard pay. Logic should dictate that overtime pay is by far the least expensive option.

Since federal managers do not collect benefits offered in the private sector such as profit sharing, stock options, bonuses, golden parachutes and the like, our managers are not similar to private-sector managers in that there is no increased benefit for their service beyond their base pay. There is no incentive to apply "extra effort."

The private sector has always recognized that "incentive" is necessary and it increases proportionally with the attendant risk/value placed with the manager. No manager anywhere is so altruistic as to offer "extra services" without some thought or expectation of compensation.

I don't think you have a realistic perspective on federal managers' jobs.

Michael P. DeslippeDefense Contract Management CommandDefense Logistics Agency

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In regards to your position that managers should not be paid overtime, I feel you didn't go far enough.

I came to the government 10 years ago after a long career in private industry. Generally in industry, any senior professional is also expected to work until the job is done, just like the supervisor/manager. On the other hand, during slack times, senior management wasn't checking their watch as you came or went, morning, noon and night, as I experienced in a previous government position.

Al PlylerContract specialistOffice of the DirectorDivision of Information Technology AcquisitionNational Institutes of Health

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Bureaucratus' response: I did not approach the issue of overtime pay for federal managers from a legalistic perspective. I simply do not think federal managers should be paid overtime. If laws or regulations require or authorize payment, so be it. I have no problem with anyone who is not a manager receiving overtime pay, if they are entitled to it.

Because the Federal Managers Association is composed of managers, I assume they are in favor of overtime pay for federal managers. That's what I disagree with. I certainly support better pay for feds but just do not think managers should be paid time and a half. It is not a compensation issue. It is about what a manager is. No one forces a person to work for the government or to be a manager. Once you choose where you want to work and what job you would like to have, you should abide by the rules of the game.

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