Union, GAO officials discuss union election

Officials from a professional labor union and the Government Accountability Office met today to begin working out details for what will be the first union representation election in GAO's 86-year history.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers filed a petition this week to form a union after a majority of GAO's approximately 1,500 analysts voted to unionize, said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the federation, which is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Horwitz declined to specify the number of GAO 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."

Horwitz said that in voting to form a union, GAO analysts have expressed concern about a range of issues, especially those related to the agency’s pay-for-performance system, which was implemented in 2004. Employees had little input into the system’s structure and management, Horwitz said. "The result is that it has hurt teamwork and morale," he added.

In a statement, Comptroller General David Walker, head of GAO, said the agency 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. Indeed, GAO has often been cited a model agency for merit-based pay systems in government.

By most accounts, GAO's employees like their work and relish the agency’s mission as the investigative arm of Congress. GAO was recently ranked the second best place to work in government in a study by the Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. The rankings were based on the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Human Capital Survey, which included responses from more than 220,000 civil servants.

But there has been an undercurrent of unhappiness at GAO about the pay-for-performance system since it was deployed, one GAO analyst said.

"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."

"It's time we led by example here at GAO," analyst John Vocino said, ironically echoing a phrase Walker uses frequently.

At a March hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Walker testified that GAO is "leading by example in transforming how government should do business."

A joint congressional hearing is scheduled for May 22 to examine GAO's personnel reforms, Horwitz said.

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