Feds and contractors all the same?

Welcome to the debut of my Ask Milt column, which will appear on FCW.com each Friday and replaces my Friday Financials column.

Ask Milt will relate more directly to my Bureaucratus column in Federal Computer Week. Specifically, it is designed to address your questions regarding federal information technology workplace issues.

For this column, I have interspersed my replies between the reader's questions and comments.

A reader wrote: I work in an office (for a Defense Department agency) where there are nine government employees and 12 contractor employees on site. We have approximately 30 more contractor employees off site. These contract employees are from five different companies. My boss sets the policy for the government employees and has made statements that we — contractors and government employees — are all the same on site.

There are several ongoing issues in our office that are very frustrating, and I am seeking advice from you on these issues.

First issue: Government vs. contractors. Our boss has set up three teams in our office; all teams have a lead. A while ago, one lead left the office for another position. The boss temporarily replaced this lead with a contractor employee. This particular team has two to three government employees on it. My question is this: Are these government employees accountable to the contractor employees? Do government employees have to take orders/direction from contractor employees? What are the government employees' rights in this position?

Milt: Government employees are not accountable to contractor employees and never should be placed in such a position. Although your boss may not have any evil intentions, he or she has created a bad situation. Contractor employees are supposed to work under government supervision, not the other way around.

Second issue: Time and attendance. Our boss has asked the government employees to supply their work hours to her. All the government employees have noted that certain contract employees seem to come and go as they please. As a matter of fact, one contractor employee has stated that he is glad that our boss is not a clock-watcher. The entire office has noticed that this individual does seem to come and go as he pleases. My boss has also stated that this person is a dear friend. The boss has also told me that this individual walks on water.

Milt: Under typical circumstances, contractor employees report their time to their own administrative officer. The contractor is supposed to bill the government for the actual time. Unless the contractor isn't reporting accurately, there's nothing wrong with this situation.

Third issue: Compressed work schedule (CWS) and telework. Several weeks ago, our boss convened a staff meeting. She set down some policy for the office regarding the above items. Our boss stated that she neither favored nor supported compressed work schedules, however, she is letting one employee, who was allowed CWS by the previous boss to remain on CWS. None of the rest of us will be approved for this work schedule. Her reasoning for this is that it would be punitive to take this individual off of his current work schedule. This seems illogical. Allowing one individual to continue on a work schedule that the boss does not support seems punitive to the rest of us as well as a privilege for this one individual.

Milt: I'm inclined to agree.

Our boss then discussed the second item, teleworking (which is this agency's term for telecommuting). She told the government employees that she did a review of which positions could participate in recurring teleworking. She said she identified one position for this type of work schedule. Again, I feel that the rest of us were/are not being given the same opportunity.

Milt: Working from home is not appropriate for all positions. Some positions require the incumbent to be on-site for meetings and other activities. So your supervisor doesn't have to authorize telework for everyone, but she should authorize it for suitable positions.

Fourth issue: Bringing kids to work. At this same staff meeting, one individual discussed children being brought to the office. I understood that because our office is an open-storage office, children were not allowed. The individual who raised this issue has since brought her children to the office twice. This is the same individual who is being allowed to telecommute.

My question for all of these issues is, What recourse do we have as government employees? Are any of these issues worthy of filing a grievance? If so, what facts do we need to present and have available?

Milt: You can file a grievance if you feel strongly about any work issue. It's up to you to decide what's important.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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