Freedom to Manage draws fire

In its first public appraisal since it was introduced two weeks ago, a Bush administration package aimed at reforming federal management laws is drawing fire from the largest federal employees' union and a key House Democrat.

President Bush's Freedom to Manage initiative — introduced as two bills Nov. 1 by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) — includes a provision that would allow the White House to submit legislation for "fast-track" consideration by Congress to eliminate or reduce legal barriers to efficient government.

That provision, which would require Congress to vote on the list of disputed laws within 30 days after the White House submits it, means Congress "should essentially roll over and play dead," ranking House Rules Committee member Martin Frost (D-Texas) said at a hearing Nov. 13 to establish the committee's jurisdiction over the proposal.

Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe, who testified at the hearing along with Thompson and U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, said the legislation will eliminate red tape and excessive bureaucratic control in the federal government. "At a time of national emergency, it is critical that the government operates effectively and spends every taxpayer dollar wisely," O'Keefe said in prepared remarks.

But the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 federal workers, will vigorously oppose the package because it usurps the role of Congress, duplicates existing but little-used management provisions, and employs an "accounting sleight-of-hand" to put federal employees at a disadvantage when managers are considering whether to outsource, said AFGE public policy director Jacque Simon.

Together, the two measures introduced by Thompson would make more widely available many flexibilities that already exist, according to Bush administration officials. One bill (S. 1612) would provide federal managers with tools and flexibility in areas such as personnel, budgeting, property management and disposal. The other (S. 1613) would provide for expedited consideration of Freedom to Manage legislative proposals in Congress.

With the imminent retirement of up to half the federal workforce on the horizon, questions of hiring and retaining skilled employees and performing government operations efficiently loom ever larger, Simon said. "If this legislation is supposed to be an answer to any of those questions, it's not," she added.

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