Prison in North Louisiana on lockdown after fights
— The federal prison here was on lockdown Sunday night after fights broke out on New Year’s Eve among inmates
at the facility in rural north Louisiana.
Prison spokesman Steven Niles said the fighting broke out shortly before noon Saturday at the
U.S. Penitentiary, the maximum-security segment of the federal prison complex there.
Niles said five prisoners were taken to local hospitals for treatment.
By Sunday, he said, four had been returned to the prison. Injuries to the other inmate were
not believed to be life-threatening. While he would not give details on the injuries, Niles said they were “consistent
What caused the fight is still under investigation. Niles said a review of video inside the
prison showed at least 15 inmates were involved, possibly more.
“We’re interviewing inmates to try to find out what happened,” he said.
Niles said the fight broke out around 11:35 a.m. and prison staff had the situation under control
within 15 minutes. No prison employees were injured, he said. “The situation was taken care of very quickly. There was
never a threat to the public,” Niles said.
When the facility is on lockdown, inmates are restricted to their living quarters, and routine
institution activities — including visitation — are temporarily suspended.
The prison is in Grant Parish, about 15 miles north of Alexandria.
It holds about 1,300 inmates and a staff of about 660 in several facilities.
On a Friday night, the president of the Local 3048 Federal
Correctional Officers union, Barry Fredieu, received a telephone call that he had been waiting on for months.
The voice on the other end was Ryan Sherman, communications
director of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), which represents peace officers statewide.
The news was of the passage of the Scott Williams Memorial
Highway bill in the California Legislature. The two union members co-sponsored the bill that designates Highway 1 from the
Santa Lucia Road turn-off to the main gate of the Vandenberg Air Force Base as Federal Correctional Officer Scott Williams
The bill was authored by Sen. Tony Strickland and California
State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.
It has been 14 years since Scott Williams was slain at the
hand of an inmate at the Lompoc federal prison. According to Fredieu, the man who stabbed Williams never went to trial but
was civilly committed to life in prison in another state.
“All these years the family really has not had any
closure or justice,” said Fredieu.
CCPOA chapter President Pat Campbell said he traveled to
Sacramento to testify a week before the decision just to “make sure there were no glitches.” According to Campbell,
there is sometimes a bit of opposition due to political positions.
Campbell said as it turned out he didn’t have
to say much, but preferred to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Fredieu, after hearing that his co-worker
would in fact be memorialized, resigned as president of Local 3078, making the legislation his final task. Fredieu plans to
retire in November, ending a 25-year career as a correctional officer.
“I wanted to see this bill go through, I couldn’t
ask for anything better as a retirement gift,” he said.
Fredieu worked with Williams at the Lompoc prison and said
he was a decorated Marine who fought in the Gulf War. “He was well respected, well liked.”
Campbell who is a correctional officer in San Luis Obispo,
said he did not know Williams personally but felt close to this project because “our lives are very similar.”
Williams and Campbell entered the military at the same time,
held the same job title and even have wives with the same name, he said.
To Campbell the memorial highway designation is a “thank
you” for that person’s contribution.
Fredieu called the designation “a lasting tribute to
Scott and his family.”
Williams’ widow, Kristy,
has been in the loop from the very beginning and said Fredieu asked her if she liked the idea before he made any plans. She
discussed it with her daughters and together they decided it would be a nice way to honor her husband.
Saying her husband was not the type who liked a lot of attention,
she said, “Our entire family feels very proud. It takes a special type of person to do a job like that and it’s
and honor to all law enforcement.”
Williams said that after
more than 14 years of fighting to get justice for her husband — with the courts finding the
attacker mentally unable to stand trial — the honor
offers a bit of closure for her family.
Associate Warden Felicia
Ponce said, “It was a great loss for our facility, we are very delighted that the state of California has decided to
honor him in this way.”
According to Fredieu, the
next step is for the California Department of Transportation to use private donations to produce two signs that will cost
about $4,000, total.
According to Campbell, there will be a dedication ceremony
with state officials present in the near future.
Federal prison has fessed up to female worker being raped
By Steve Nunez
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - After five days of trying to keep a sexual assault on
the hush, the Federal Prison in Tucson has now fessed up. Officials confirmed to 9 On Your Side the FBI is investigating a
female worker who reported she was raped by a prisoner last Friday.
Brian Lowry, National President of the Council
of Prison's Local Union of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) that represents prison officers and workers,
said had he not come from Arkansas to Tucson the prison may have swept the sexual assault under the rug.
am angry," said Lowry.
And, he's not the only one who is outraged.
Lowry continued, "The staff (prison) are
angry at the incident."
It turns out, in digging for the facts, a prisoner violently attacked a female worker with
a weapon and then raped her. It happened in a hallway inside the maximum security prison.
The 20-year agency veteran
was all alone.
But, come to find out, this incident highlights a wider problem with the entire prison system.
is not uncommon in the Bureau of Prisons that a staff member in the capacity of what the victim does would be one-on-one sometimes
with inmates to get there job done," said Lowry.
The union president said all 122 federal prisons throughout the country
are no longer properly staffed.
"And the staff are in danger in some sense because of the reduced numbers there's no
way to get around it," said Lowry.
It's a secret, Lowry said, the prison does not want you to know about.
took 9 On Your Side five days to pry information from the prison.
In response to our emailed questions, the prison
now revealed 283 of its 522 workers are correctional officers.
S.K. Beauchamp, the prison's Public Information Officer,
released this statement: "All Bureau of Prisons' staff, regardless of their specialized work assignment, receives the same
training as correctional officers. Bureau of Prisons' staff are Correctional Workers first, committed to the highest level
But what the prison does not say is how many its 283 officers are assigned to guard the maximum security
facility where the female worker was raped. The 1,616 inmates housed in this facility are considered the most dangerous murderers
and violent sexual predators.
The Federal Prison complex has two other facilities that houses 863 criminals considered
Lowry believes the maximum security is short-staffed 150 correctional officers.
9 On Your Side
Reporter Steve Nuñez asked: "What do you say to those who say you're using this to push your agenda as a union to hire more
officers which then become union members?"
"I assure you that the incidents that occurred in Tucson on Friday and Saturday
are not part of my agenda," answered Lowry.
Meanwhile, Lowry confirmed the prison remains under lock-down. He said
that's an indication prisoners are still being shaked-down for information.
Lowry tells 9 On Your Side the rape victim
is at home recovering but is still under a doctors care. He said at this time it's unlikely she'll ever return to work again.
FBI has yet to question the victim.
Lowry also confirmed to 9 On Your Side the prisoner who reportedly raped the female
worker has a history of sexual violence against other women.
The union president said while this prisoner has been
moved to another facility it does not solve the fact all prison's are short-staffed. He fears the same thing is bound to happen
Painful Memories Renewed for Former Prison Worker
PIMA COUNTY - A weekend attack at Tucson's U.S. Penitentiary hit home for a Tucson
Saturday, officials said a female employee was sexually assaulted. The victim had
worked at the prison for 20-years. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said, she was alone when she was attacked by a male inmate
with a weapon.
When Wendy Lemons first heard the news of the attack on Saturday it immediately brought
back some painful memories from her own attack.
Lemons was a senior officer at the prison during her attack. She said the inmate
had been stalking her for months before eventually taking it to the next level. Lemons said, "He pushed me against some book
shelves. He was totally naked and oiled down. I screamed real loud and I hit my body alarm because we have no weapons. The
officers came a few minutes later to help me."
Physically she was banged up a little bit but she said the worst of it came later
through emotional and mental problems.
"Just pulling up into the driveway was too much for me at work and stuff. Being in
that quiet unit from midnight to eight I kept thinking someone was going to come and get me or something so it was pretty
So tough she had to retire. But even then she said her issues didn't stop. Lemons
said, "It was more of a mental thing. I still have nightmares to this day. I don't think it's ever going to go away."
And that's her biggest fear for the victim in this latest attack.
She said, "I feel so bad for that lady and what she's going through. I don't even
know all the details but i really feel bad for her."
So what can be done to stop the attacks on female workers?
Lemons said women
don't need to be treated any differently but they could use some more help, just like the men. She said, "They need to up
their staffing levels. That's what the union is upset about. Staffing is very low. You can't supervise all those inmates with
just one person."
We put in a call
to the prison system both on a local level and a national level to talk about the recent incident and any possible changes.
They refused to comment.
Prisoner raped female worker; what officials don't want you
By Steve Nunez
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A prisoner raped a female worker at the
federal prison in Tucson. The sexual assault happened inside the maximum security facility last Friday morning.
prison officials would not comment on the incident. In fact, over the weekend they initially denied the sexual assault took
9 On Your Side tried to get answers on Monday. A prison official
asked us to leave because camera's are not allowed on its premises.
However, Susan Mastin, local President of the American
Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), confirmed to 9 On Your Side the inmate attacked the 20-year veteran with a weapon.
She would not give specific details because the investigation is ongoing.
Mastin said the sexual assault highlights
what's really happening on the other side of our federal prison walls.
She's calling on the Federal Bureau of Prisons
to allow its workers to carry pepper spray.
When KGUN9 News met with Mastin, all she had with her was a two-way radio
and a set of keys clipped to her belt. She said it's the same equipment most prison officers carry with her while working
next to dangerous murderers and sex offenders.
"I think if this individual had pepper spray they would have had a few
seconds, a chance, at least, of utilizing it and getting into a safer area," said Mastin.
9 On Your Side Reporter asked
Mastin why the female victim was allowed to work by herself.
"Well we find ourself in the areas by ourselves on a regular
basis," replied Mastin.
Mastin claims there's also a huge shortage of officers. She's also calling on Congressional
leaders to increase its prison budget to hire more officers.
Nuñez asked: "The budget defict that this nation is currently
faced with, do you believe you'll ever get the funding to increase staffing?"
"They (congressional leaders) understand
what the problem is and I'm very hopeful that they will listen to us and help keep us safe and keep the community safe," said
Mastin. But until more funding arrives, Mastin said officers will continue to be vulnerable to attacks by inmates.
prison also denied prisoners attacked and assaulted four officers over the weekend. After denying the incident, the prison
released a statement confirming the brawl.
Three staff members suffered minor injuries and were treated by prison medical
staff. One staff member was treated at a local hospital for non-life threatening injuries.
The prison officer's union
tells 9 On Your Side it's raised similar concerns regarding officer safety as recently as last year.
Gabrielle Gifford's office confirmed to 9 On Your Side the Congresswoman met with the union and contacted the Federal Bureau
of Prisons which then supplied its prison officers with stab-proof vests.
OPM backs management groups seeking to participate in labor forums
The government's human resources chief is asking federal agencies
to give management associations a seat at labor forum discussions from which they've been excluded.
In a July 20 memo, Office
of Personnel Management Director John Berry reminded
agency heads to consult with organizations representing federal supervisors on issues affecting agency operations, personnel
management and employee effectiveness. Managers should be included in decision-making processes and notified of any changes
in a timely manner even if they are not part of an association, he wrote.
Members of the Government Management Coalition in April sent a letter to Berry and Office of
Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients, who co-chairs the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations,
asking to be included in forums designed to improve communication between agency leadership, employees and managers. Council
members in May 2010 expressed support for management associations'
participation, but representatives say little progress has been made.
"Not a single association has been allowed to participate in the forums, and in some cases, our associations have been
actively excluded," they wrote. "More troubling, the associations are not part of the dialogue about issues and decisions
discussed in pre-decisional involvement or the forums, despite the fact our members are directly responsible for carrying
out the decisions of the forums."
Management associations already have consultation rights in some agencies. Though these organizations are actively involved
in council meetings, there is nothing mandating that they be included in agency-level forums, and the council does not have
to approve their participation. According to one organization's representative, Berry's memo simply reminds agencies that
may not be aware of those rights that management associations can ask to participate in forum discussions.
"Our folks have the advantage to say here's why this might work," said Jessica Klement, government affairs director for
the Federal Managers Association. "First- and second-line supervisors are being left out of the conversation when they have
to implement what forums decide."
EPA employee union launches bid to battle funding cuts
By Ben Geman
The union that represents Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees is launching
a new campaign to battle funding cuts and staffing reductions facing the agency.
The campaign rolled out this month
by the American Federation of Government Employees National Council #238 of EPA Locals comes as the EPA faces immediate cuts
under House GOP spending legislation, and potentially years of reductions under the deficit-cutting deal the White House struck
The "Save the Environment — Save the EPA" campaign will "bring attention to the dangerous impacts
the draconian budget cuts proposed by Congress would have on the ability of the EPA to protect our nation’s human health
and the environment," according to the
The House is debating fiscal 2012 spending plans that provide $7.1
billion for the EPA, well below the agency’s current-year funding of $8.7 billion — and $1.8 billion less than
the White House is seeking for fiscal 2012.
Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee
panel that crafts the EPA’s budget, this week
predicted that the deal to trim the deficit by over $2 trillion over 10 years will mean ongoing pain for environmental
and conservation programs.
Groups urge leaders to reject proposals aimed at federal workforce
With less than a month to go before the government begins to default on its
obligations, federal employee groups continue to urge congressional leaders and the White House to reject proposals targeting
their pay and benefits as part of a deficit reduction deal.
A coalition of 25 groups sent letters to President Obama and House and Senate leaders
July 1, criticizing a plan negotiators are considering that would require federal workers to contribute more of their salaries
to their pension plans, calling the proposed increase a "payroll tax." Federal employee advocates argue such an increase in
worker contributions could exceed 5 percent of employees' income.
"Federal civil servants are already subject to a two-year pay
freeze, despite the fact the nation's debt crisis did not arise out of exorbitant federal civil service pay or benefits,"
the letters stated.
The Federal-Postal Coalition is made up of organizations including
the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Senior
Executives Association. The group sent a similar letter in June to Vice President Biden, who is leading the debt ceiling negotiations.
Bruce Moyer, chairman of the Federal-Postal Coalition, said
in an email that the group has not received a response to its July 1 letter.
The future of government employees' contributions to the Federal
Employees Retirement System is uncertain. In addition to discussions to increase workers' share as part of debt ceiling negotiations,
the House-passed version of the fiscal 2012 budget resolution included a recommendation that would require federal employees
to pay for half the defined benefit they receive with their pensions at retirement. Most employees currently contribute 0.8
percent of their salaries and agencies pay 11.7 percent, with agencies' contribution set
to increase to 11.9 percent in October.
In June, the U.S. Postal Service halted employer contributions
to the FERS-defined benefit plan, which the agency estimates will free up $800 million in cash this fiscal year.
The Treasury Department in May suspended investments into federal
employees' pensions, when the government officially hit its debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion. Once the debt issue is resolved,
the Treasury by law will be required to restore federal pensions and the Thrift Savings Plan's stable government securities
(G) fund to their full balance, along with any interest lost during the suspension. The government expects to default on its
obligations on Aug. 2, unless negotiators can come to an agreement.
Current and former lawmakers have jumped in on the pension debate.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., last month urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to protect federal pensions
during budget negotiations. She also criticized the idea that government workers should contribute more to their retirement
plans in an effort to cut spending. Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have introduced legislation that
would end the FERS defined benefit plan for new federal employees, including new members of Congress, starting in 2013.
Failure to raise the government's
debt ceiling could lead to cuts in pay and benefits for federal civilian employees, military
members and veterans, according to an analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center. In a report published in June, the center
found that unless the debt ceiling is raised, federal spending would be cut by 44 percent in August. Under several scenarios,
Geithner could prioritize spending to include reductions in pay for government workers, the group said.
A February report from the Congressional Research Service,
however, found that exceeding the debt ceiling carries less risk for federal workers than a government shutdown. "Failing
to raise the debt ceiling would not bring the government to a screeching halt the way that not passing appropriations bills
would," CRS wrote, quoting a 1995 report from the Congressional Budget Office. "Employees would not be sent home and checks
would continue to be issued."
retiree benefits could face cuts in deficit talks
Federal annuities could be at risk, along with government pay and other benefits, as lawmakers comb the budget in search of potential savings.
Steve Strobridge, director of government relations at the Military Officers
Association of America, said an overhaul of the military retirement system is "allegedly . . . one possible item on the list"
of proposals being considered in the deficit reduction talks.
The changes, which are based on a 2009 report on military compensation, would
shift service members to a civilian system under which full annuities wouldn't be paid until beneficiaries reach age 57 to
60. Defense's contributions would vary annually based on changing retention and skill requirements under the new system, and
service members who stay in for 10 years would not lose contributions to their retirement funds.
Under the current system, military personnel are eligible for pension payments
after 20 years of service. According to Strobridge,current service members and retirees would be exempt from the changes,
which would affect only new personnel. The 20-year requirement keeps retention and readiness high, he said, noting that proposals
to cut overall military retirement costs while implementing an expensive vesting strategy increase the burden on career service
"The whole concept of the military retirement system is to induce people to
put up with extreme sacrifices for 20 to 30 years," Strobridge said. "You can't civilianize compensation without civilianizing
service conditions, and we're certainly not going to do that."
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates criticized the current military retirement
system. During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last month, Gates told lawmakers that up to 80 percent of service
members do not stay long enough to retire and receive no benefits, while the 20-year model incentivizes personnel to shorten
their careers when the military needs them to stay.
An attempt by Congress to reform the military retirement system in 1986 was
less severe than the current proposal, but did affect service member retention, Strobridge said. "Having proven that a much
lesser cut has hurt retention and readiness, I'm surprised they are considering a much larger cut," he said.
Also up for debate is the government's method for calculating cost-of-living
adjustments for Social Security recipients, which in turn could reduce COLAs paid to federal civilian and military retirees.
COLAs are determined based on a formula that takes into account increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners
and Clerical Workers, but some experts argue that a "chained CPI," which takes into account changes in purchasing habits as
prices change, provides a clearer understanding of inflation.
According to Daniel Adcock, legislative director at the National Active and
Retired Federal Employees Association, the proposal disproportionately affects older Americans who tend to have higher health
care costs, particularly in the last few years when retirees haven't received cost-of-living adjustments. The change has been
estimated to lower Social Security benefits by 3 percent over 10 years and likely would have a similar impact on federal civilian
and military retiree COLAs, he said.
of the things you could possibly see is you don't change the Social Security COLA, but you do change the federal civilian
and military COLA because they are much smaller programs and you'll take less heat from 2.3 million federal workers than 40
million Social Security beneficiaries," Adcock said.
Two inmates injured in disturbance involving 40 at federal prison in
FAIRFIELD TWP. — Two inmates were injured Wednesday evening when a fight
broke out among 40 inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fairton, prison officials confirmed.
occurred around 7:30 p.m. in the prison recreation yard.
The two injured inmates were transported to local hospitals
suffering injuries sustained from fighting, officials said.
None of the injuries were deemed life-threatening.
staff responded immediately and secured the institution, officials said, accounted for all inmates, and initiated an investigation.
stated there was never any threat to the surrounding area or local community.
No explanation for what caused the fight
has been released.
MIKULSKI URGES GEITHNER TO TAKE FEDERAL EMPLOYEE PENSIONS OFF THE BUDGET CHOPPING BLOCK
Senator says promises made must be promises kept
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), this week sent a letter to
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, urging him to protect federal employee pensions during the budget process. Right
now, the Department of the Treasury is borrowing billions from the federal employee pension funds to avoid America defaulting
on its debts after reaching the debt limit. These same pensions, that are currently helping to avert a fiscal disaster, have
been targeted for cuts in recent debt-reduction negotiations.
"I value the service of federal employees, and I know how important these benefits are to millions
of middle-class families," Senator Mikulski said. "Promises made must be promises kept. We must not put federal employee pensions
on the chopping block in budget reduction negotiations."The full text of the letter follows:
Timothy F. Geithner
Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20220
Dear Secretary Geithner:
I write out of concern for our hardworking federal employees and the pension funds that they
have paid into over their working lives. Federal employee pension funds are being used to prevent a fiscal disaster, and federal
worker’s pensions are being targeted for cuts to balance the budget.
Right now, the Department of Treasury is borrowing billions from these workers as part of a
series of emergency measures to prevent the catastrophic consequences of hitting the debt ceiling. This is not the first time
that federal employee pension funds have been used to prevent the government from defaulting on its debts. It is the fifth
time in fifteen years. Each time, federal employees are told "Don’t worry—your retirement savings aren’t
at risk," but Congress has tested the faith of our federal workers repeatedly.
These men and women are dedicated and duty driven. They are on the frontlines protecting America
every day securing our borders, inspecting our food, and performing critical health research. They deserve a decent wage,
safe working conditions, and our thanks and respect.
Unfortunately, rather than being recognized for their contributions, federal employees have
become scapegoats for the financial problems our nation faces. They have already been subject to a two-year pay freeze. But
that wasn’t enough. Now, some Members of Congress and Administration officials are asking federal workers to contribute
significantly more to their retirement plans—a proposal that would essentially lead to a 5 percent pay cut.
I value the service of federal employees, and I know how important these benefits are to millions
of middle class families. Promises made must be promises kept. We must not put federal employee pensions on the chopping block
in budget reduction negotiations.
United States Senator
Union Official Opposes Efforts To Limit Official Time
WASHINGTON, June 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/
-- The American Federation of Government Employees strongly opposes any proposals to erode the rights of federal employee
representatives to use official time to represent collective bargaining unit employees, AFGE National President John
Gage told a House panel today.
For nearly 50 years, federal employees who serve as volunteer employee representatives have used official time to engage
in representational activities while on duty status. Such activities include creating fair promotion procedures, establishing
flexible work hours, setting procedures that protect employees from on-the-job injuries, enforcing protections from unlawful
discrimination, developing telework practices and providing workers with a voice in determining their working conditions.
Federal employee unions represent all employees within their collective bargaining units, even those who choose not to
pay union dues, Gage noted.
"Through official time, employee representatives are able to work together with federal
managers to use their time, talent and resources to make our government even better. Gains in quality, productivity and efficiency
– year after year, in department after department – simply would not have been possible without the reasonable
and sound use of official time," Gage said in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the
Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy.
Federal employee representatives do not use official time to conduct union-specific business,
such as soliciting members, holding internal union meetings, electing union officers or engaging in partisan political activities.
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 limits the amount of official time that can be used for representational responsibilities
to what which the labor organization and employing agency agree is reasonable, necessary and in the public interest, Gage
"The amount of time must be negotiated by the two parties. It is not a blank check for
the union," he said.
From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009, total official time hours governmentwide increased 3.37 percent. But the total number
of hours expended per bargaining unit employee fell from 2.60 to 2.58.
Supreme Court orders California to release tens of thousands of prison inmates
The 5-4 decision represents one of the largest prison release orders in U.S. history. The court majority
says overcrowding has caused 'suffering and death.' In a sharp dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia warns 'terrible things are
sure to happen.'
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to release tens of thousands of its prisoners to relieve
overcrowding, saying that "needless suffering and death" had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot
hold them in decent conditions.
It is one of the largest prison release orders in the nation's history, and it sharply
split the high court.
Justices upheld an order from a three-judge panel in California that called for releasing 38,000
to 46,000 prisoners. Since then, the state has transferred about 9,000 state inmates to county jails. As a result, the total
prison population is now about 32,000 more than the capacity limit set by the panel.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking
for the majority, said California's prisons had "fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements" because of overcrowding.
As many as 200 prisoners may live in gymnasium, he said, and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet.
insisted that the state had no choice but to release more prisoners. The justices, however, agreed that California officials
should be given more time to make the needed reductions.
In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia
called the ruling "staggering" and "absurd."
He said the high court had repeatedly overruled the 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals for ordering the release of individual prisoners. Now, he said, the majority were ordering the release of "46,000
happy-go-lucky felons." He added that "terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order."
Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with him.
In a separate dissent,
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John
G. Roberts Jr. said the ruling conflicted with a federal law intended to limit the power of federal judges to order
a release of prisoners.
State officials and lawyers for inmates differ over just how many prisoners will have to be
released. In recent figures, the state said it had about 142,000 inmates behind bars, and the judges calculated the prison
population would need to be reduced to about 110,000 to comply with constitutional standards.
Kennedy said the judges
in California overseeing the prison-release order should "accord the state considerable latitude to find mechanisms and make
plans" that are "consistent with the public safety."
The American Civil Liberties Union
said the court had "done the right thing" by addressing the "egregious and extreme overcrowding in California's prisons."
Fathi, director of the ACLU national prison project, said "reducing the number of people in prison not only would save the
state taxpayers half a billion annually, it would lead to the implementation of truly rehabilitative programs that lower recidivism
rates and create safer communities."
Meanwhile, the court took no action on another California case in which a conservative
group is challenging the state's policy of granting in-state tuition at its colleges and universities to students who are
illegal immigrants and have graduated from its high schools.
The justices said they would consider the appeal in a
later private conference.
20 Percent Hike In Your Health Premiums?
by Mike Causey
Federal workers, who now
pay about 30 percent of their total health plan premium, could wind up shouldering more than half the burden in a few years
under deficit-cutting plans being considered by Congress and the Obama administration.
Since the government often leads the health insurance parade, any change in premium-sharing could have an impact on private
sector firms and cash-strapped state and local governments.
Currently the government and employees share the cost of premiums. Under a formula set by law, the government pays about
70 cents of each premium dollar. Nonpostal federal workers and retirees pay the remaining 30 percent of the total premium.
The popular Blue Cross-Blue Shield standard family plan has a biweekly total premium of $ $453.48. But of that amount,
the government pays $340.11 and the employee pays $113.37. To check out the premium split in your health plan, click here.
That 70/30 split, which also applies to FEHBP premiums of members of the House and Senate,
varies slightly among the dozens of plans available to active and retired civil servants and their survivors. Overall the
program covers nearly 9 million people, from CIA agents to NASA astronauts and other civil servants.
Premiums in most of the health plans generally go up each year. Sometimes by a lot. Employees and retirees can switch plans
during the regular Novemeber-December open season, or any other time when they have a change in status (including marriage,
birth, divorce or death of a spouse.) But each time premiums go up, the 70/30 split is adjusted so that the government continues
to pay the lion's share.
The presidential commission on deficit reduction chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson
(R-Wyo.) and former White House aide Erskine Bowles (National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility
and Reform) produced a laundry list of cuts that would be presented to Congress. One of those proposals was for a 3-year
federal pay freeze which President Obama modified to a 2-year freeze. The commission also recommended that feds pay a larger
share of their premiums. It and other proposals are being considered by groups in Congress, from the Senate Gang of 6 (now
maybe 5,) to the so-called Blair House task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden which is also looking at changes
in FERS, the largest federal retirement program covering about four-fifths of the workforce.
Dan Adcock, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees
Association, said the plan to gradually boost the employee-retiree share of premiums "is one that keeps me up at night." The
proposal would cap the government share based on a complex formula using the GDP (gross domestic product). The bottom line,
Adcock said, is that if it was enacted this year, workers and retirees who now pay 30 percent of their premium could wind
up paying 34 percent in 2012 and as much as 54 percent within 8 years.
That would be especially tough since federal workers are under a pay freeze for 2011 and 2012, and federal retirees have
not had a cost of living adjustment in the last two years.
Our View: Illinois should try to get better sale price for Thomson prison
So it looks as though Illinois may finally be able to unload the prison in the tiny town of Thomson, built 11 years ago
but never fully used.
Gov. Pat Quinn has been trying to reach a deal with the U.S. government for the past 18 months or so to take possession
of the facility and open it as a maximum-security federal prison. Doing so could create an estimated 1,200 direct and indirect
jobs - other projections have ranged as high as a wildly optimistic 3,800 - while producing further benefits from construction
to renovate the facility, increased tax revenue from new employees and even additional sales taxes from businesses developing
Of course, things got a little sidetracked during the debate over whether to move detainees now being held at the Navy's
Guantanamo Bay facility up to northwest Illinois. (The final ruling from state and federal pols alike: No Gitmo North here.)
Then matters became bogged down over cost and the high hurdles to clear in order for one government to sell a piece of property
to another government. Nothing is ever easy.
Eventually the appraisal on the building came back at $220 million, to our understanding
the lowest amount Thomson Correctional can be sold for under Illinois law. The amount that Congress was willing to set aside
for buying a new prison has fluctuated between $90 million and $237 million. Now the federal Bureau of Prisons reportedly
has offered $165 million. Obviously that's not $220 million.
Nonetheless, supporters of taking the first offer insist we're still getting a deal. After all, it cost $140 million to
build the joint back in 2000 and we'd be getting $165 million today. That ignores the fact that $140 million in the year 2000
amounts to upwards of $180 million in today's cash. Plus we spent the last 11 years paying for upkeep on the place while it
was sitting vacant or nearly so.
If Illinois has no use for this property, we'd like it to be sold. Illinois, Inc. lacks the resources to open a new state
prison and the feds are hungry for another place to securely place prisoners. On top of that, state government could use the
cash, to be blunt. We can't disagree with the sentiment expressed by state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-Rock Island, earlier this week:
If we pick up a little bit of unanticipated money here, "maybe we won't have to cut some kid's program ..."
That shouldn't necessarily lead to Illinois settling for a less-than-fair price for the facility. Uncle Sam and the Land
of Lincoln alike have virtually unprecedented budget challenges, but that doesn't mean the latter shouldn't try to get the
former to move closer toward the appraisal.
2 Stabbed As 150 Inmates Fight At Calif. Prison
Two inmates were stabbed multiple times and others were injured during a riot Friday in an outdoor recreation yard at a
maximum-security prison near Sacramento, prison officials said.
Guards fired a warning shot and used pepper spray to break up the fight among about 150 inmates at California State Prison,
Sacramento in Folsom, which is about 20 miles east of the state capital. It houses about 3,000 inmates.
The condition of the two inmates who were stabbed was not immediately known, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Several other inmates were taken to outside hospitals, while others were treated at the prison for minor injuries, she
said. The number of injured inmates and their medical conditions was not immediately known, she said.
No guards or other staff members were hurt during the skirmish, which began about 10:30 a.m.
The fight involved inmates from several different racial groups, but it is not clear why it started, Thornton said.
"That, is, of course going to be investigated," she said.
Thornton said she did not know how quickly the fight was contained. The prison halted most inmate movements while it was
The brawl was on the B-Facility main exercise yard at the prison, which opened in 1986. It is next door to the much older
Folsom State Prison. About 1,700 employees work at the California State Prison, Sacramento.
Prison Price Set, But Payday for Illinois Not Soon Enough
By Diane S.W. Lee
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn and President
Barack Obama’s administration might have struck a deal on a price for the empty Thomson prison, but Illinois shouldn't
expect a check anytime soon.
The agreed upon price of $165 million for the Thomson Correctional Center in the northern corner of the state is less than
its appraised value of $220 million, state lawmakers confirmed Wednesday.
However, Rich Carter, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-16th District, said the Illinois congressman has not heard
anything about a sale.
"The federal government doesn't have any money," Carter said. "There may be an agreement, but there cannot be a sale without
any money to buy the prison."
State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said
Illinois needs the money sooner, rather than later.
"Maybe we won’t have to cut some kid’s program, because right now we are in the process of cutting $2.4 billion
out of our budget," Jacobs said. "… And maybe this will save a few programs that we won’t have to cut out."
State Rep. Patrick Verschoore, D-Milan, said he was disappointed in the price,
but "there is no sense in having something in that good of shape sitting there empty."
In 2001, former Gov. George Ryan built Thomson to ease state prison overcrowding. But the prison has sat empty for nearly
a decade, because of state budget cuts and politics.
State Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, said the price is actually more than the
cost to build the prison.
"Let’s get it open. Let’s put people to work," Sacia said. "Let’s bring the financial economic impact
to our community."
State Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Cordova, said the prison will provide thousands
of new jobs to his district, which runs from just north of Thomson and Savanna to the middle of the Quad Cities.
Morthland said the governor reached the agreement almost two weeks ago, but the state will need approval from Congress
to sell the prison to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Lawmakers were told to keep it under wraps until funding and an opening
date were set.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is working with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reprogram federal funding to turn Thomson
into a federal maximum security prison.
"He hopes this can be done as soon as possible so that the purchase can move forward and bring with it the jobs and economic
development so important to the region’s future," Durbin's spokeswoman Christina Mulka said in an email.
Thomson would not house terror suspects from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, Mulka said. Prospects of bringing
terrorists to the Land of Lincoln weren't received warmly by people living near the prison.
Grant Klinzman, the governor's press secretary, said Quinn is moving forward with the sale.
"We are continuing to work with the federal government regarding the sale of Thomson Correctional Center. We hope to complete
the sale as soon as possible," Klinzman said in an email.
Prison Company Worker Liability Gets U.S. Supreme Court Review
By Greg Stohr
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether
employees of private prison operators can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of inmates.
The justices today said they will hear arguments from five Geo Group Inc.
(GEO) employees seeking to stop a lawsuit by a California inmate who says he was mistreated by
prison workers after breaking both elbows in an accident.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that inmates can’t press claims for damages against private prison
companies that allegedly violate the Constitution. That case didn’t address claims against guards and other employees
of those companies.
More than 34,000 federal inmates are being held in privately run facilities, according to the employees’
appeal. The Federal Bureau of Prisons houses inmates in 14 privately run facilities in eight states.
Richard Lee Pollard was serving time for drug and weapons charges in a Geo-run federal facility in
Taft, California, in 2001 when he tripped over a cart and broke both
Among other allegations, he says that during his trip to an orthopedist, he was required to wear a
so-called black box, a device that forces the inmate’s hands down and his arms together. In papers filed at the Supreme
Court, Pollard’s lawyers say he had to "hold his broken elbows in an awkward and tremendously painful position" for
6 1/2 hours.
Pollard says that in the coming days he was denied a needed splint, forced to perform painful manual
labor and refused assistance with hygiene and meals.
A San Francisco-based federal appeals court said Pollard’s suit could go forward against the
employees, though not against Geo itself. Other appellate courts around the country have barred suits against employees as
The Geo employees told the high court that prisoner lawsuits over alleged constitutional violations
are "already inundating the federal courts." The appeals court’s "dramatic expansion of liability, combined with the
increasing prevalence of private prison contractors, will only ensure that such litigation increases," the employees argued.
A ruling favoring the Geo employees wouldn’t preclude inmates from pressing suits under state
Geo, formerly known as Wackenhut, is based in Boca Raton,
The case is Minneci v. Pollard, 10-1104.
Six Percent Pay Cut is Halfway Home
Forget the pay freeze. Brace yourself for a pay cut too!
Most federal workers would see their take-home pay drop 5 to 6 percent under legislation the
Senate is scheduled to take up next week.
The proposal requiring employees to pay a larger share of their retirement costs is part of
the budget that has already passed the House as part of the fiscal year 2012 budget resolution. It also calls for a reduction,
via attrition, of 155,000 employees. That, according to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is the number
of federal workers hired since the Obama administration took office.
Critics say that figure doesn't take into account thousands of feds who quit or retired over
the last two years.
Under the plan, people who are covered by the old Civil Service Retirement System (about 20
percent of the total workforce) would see their retirement contributions (the amount deducted from their biweekly paychecks)
go from 7 percent to 12.5 percent.
The majority of employees, who are under the Federal Employees Retirement System, would see
their retirement contributions now 0.8 percent go to 5.75 percent.
According to government data, Uncle Sam now contributes 18 percent to the annuity of CSRS employees
and 11.5 percent to finance the FERS benefit.
In effect the House action would split the cost 50/50 between the government and individual
Unions and groups representing federal and postal workers at all levels are taking the threat
seriously. Federal Managers Association president Patricia Niehaus told the Senate Budget Committee that the proposal to make
feds pay more for their pensions "is nothing less than a poorly disguised pay cut..." Niehaus said that trimming the federal
workforce would hurt taxpayer-customers from the IRS to Social Security.
"When the Clinton administration imposed sweeping arbitrary workforce cuts (of about 172,000)
in the mid-1990s" she said, officials and politicians quickly learned that "the workload didn't change," and outside contractors
had to be hired to take up the slack.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, which represents both working
and retired feds, has mounted what it hopes will be a massive grass roots operation that will touch every congressional office.
NARFE, which traditionally has had one of the largest PACs (political action committee funds) calls it " Protect America's
Heartbeat". It's set up a system that will generate letters and e-mails to individual members of Congress, especially targeting
the Senate. You can find it on their website, NARFE.org
More??? Coming soon from Congress. Votes on plans to extend the current two year pay freeze an additional
one to three years, and the plan to reduce future retirement benefits by basing employees' annuity payments on their highest
5-years of service. Under current rules pensions are based on the employees high-3.
Expand Search for Bureau of Prisons Director, Attorneys Say
By Krystle Idnani
Two groups representing attorneys are asking Attorney General Eric Holder to cast a wide net in searching for a new director
of the Bureau of Prisons.
The American Bar Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wrote in a letter to Holder that
it would be a mistake to limit the search to people already working for the bureau. Harley Lappin resigned as bureau director
effective May 7. As first reported  by Main Justice, Lappin was
arrested for drunk driving on Feb. 26, although DOJ officials said he had decided to leave before the arrest.
The letter, first reported by The Blog of Legal Times , sharply criticizes the bureau’s
leadership, saying that the dramatic increase in the size of the prison population "has not been accompanied by corresponding
changes in management philosophy and institutional culture."
The groups added, "If agency size alone were the measure of importance, the search for a new BOP director
would be as rigorous as the search for a new FBI director."
AFGE Praises Reintroduction of Contracting Reform Bill
CLEAN UP bill would restore integrity to federal sourcing process
WASHINGTON, May 13, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees
today applauded Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., for reintroducing legislation
that would put a halt to the rampant outsourcing of inherently governmental functions.
"The Mikulski-Sarbanes CLEAN UP Act is vital to any serious effort to save taxpayer dollars and restore integrity to the
federal sourcing process," AFGE National President John Gage said. "All Americans who depend on the federal government
for important services are indebted to them for their courageous leadership."
The CLEAN UP (Correction of Longstanding Errors in Agencies Unsustainable Procurements) Act would:
Establish overarching principles to govern sourcing. This would ensure that functions deemed inherently governmental,
closely associated with inherently governmental or mission-essential are performed by reliable and experienced federal employees.
Other functions would shift between federal employees and contractors, depending on which is more efficient and effective,
consistent with agency needs and any competition requirements.
Encourage agencies to insource new functions in order to avoid sole-source and limited competition contracts.
Ensure that agencies incrementally insource inherently governmental, closely associated with inherently governmental,
and mission-essential functions that have been wrongly contracted out.
Ensure that agencies identify where they are experiencing or expect to experience shortages of federal employees.
Establish internal business process reengineering as an alternative to the costly and controversial OMB Circular A-76
Recommend that critically needed reforms to the A-76 process finally be undertaken.
The CLEAN UP Act would build on previous actions by Congress to restore fairness to the
contracting out process. Congress already has passed legislation that requires agencies to conduct formal cost comparisons
before any work can be outsourced; excludes health care and retirement costs from the cost comparison process to prevent contractors
from winning contracts by providing bad benefits; establishes basic bid protest rights for federal employees; requires agencies
to inventory their service contracts to identify contracts that are poorly performed, include inherently governmental functions,
or cost too much; suspends the infamous OMB Circular A-76 privatization process; and requires that agencies give "special
consideration" to insourcing functions that can be performed more efficiently in-house or are so important or sensitive that
they never should have been outsourced in the first place.
"AFGE is proud that so many of the sourcing policies we have championed have become law,
benefiting taxpayers and all Americans who depend on the federal government for important services," Gage said. "The CLEAN
UP Act is the logical next step."
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 625,000 workers
in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.
Federal worker pensions emerge as target in debt-reduction
By Lori Montgomery
The generous pension system enjoyed by millions of federal workers from clerks
to senators and judges has emerged as a key target in negotiations between Vice President Biden and congressional leaders
looking to restrain the growing national debt.
Republicans have proposed saving more than $120 billion over the next decade by requiring
the civilian workforce to contribute more toward retirement — a plan that would effectively impose an immediate 5 percent
pay cut on more than 2 million federal employees. President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission has also endorsed the
idea, calling the federal system “out of line” with the private sector.
Now, administration officials have expressed interest in raising the amount that
employees contribute to their pensions — though probably not as high as the GOP proposal, definitely not as fast and
possibly not for all workers, according to people in both parties familiar with the discussions.
If adopted as part of a compromise plan to control federal borrowing, the proposal
promises to test the resolve of local lawmakers — particularly Democrats — by forcing them to choose between the
lofty goal of debt reduction and the interests of public-sector workers, who have come under fire from Republicans in Washington
and several state capitals.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) may be the first to face that dilemma. One of only
six lawmakers at the table in the Biden talks, Van Hollen represents a suburban Washington district that is home to one of
the nation’s largest concentrations of federal employees.
Van Hollen has vocally opposed the GOP pension proposal, which was included in the
budget blueprint that passed the House last month. He declined to comment on the closed-door talks at Blair House, which have
already set off alarm bells among union leaders.
“We’re very concerned,” said Maureen Gilman, legislative and political
director for the National Treasury Employees Union, noting that federal workers were hit in January with a two-year pay freeze.
“These are difficult times, and federal employees understand this,” Gilman
said. “But we’d like to see some other people in the shared pot for sacrifice before anybody comes back to us
Hard road ahead
The proposal to change pension funding represents one of the plumpest pots of potential
savings under discussion by the Biden group. The White House has not previously endorsed the idea, and a White House spokeswoman
declined to comment, citing the private nature of the talks.
The issue illustrates the hard road ahead for policymakers trying to rebalance the
federal budget. Participants in the Biden talks have temporarily set aside the most ideologically divisive issues, such as
raising taxes and cutting entitlement benefits. But while the remaining targets are smaller, they are also guarded by a thicket
of lobbyists and interest groups.
Since May 5, negotiators have focused on a list of proposed reductions to “mandatory”
programs, which are financed outside the annual appropriations process. The Republican-controlled House’s budget blueprint
includes $715 billion in such savings through 2021; Obama has offered $290 billion.
Negotiators have identified areas of overlap that could save as much as $200 billion
over the next decade, sources familiar with the talks said, though that figure is expected to shrink as the two sides hash
“We just tasked the staff with about 10 things we all agree that we had to
go back and look at, things that we weren’t crazy about looking at and a lot of things they weren’t crazy about
looking at,” Biden told reporters Thursday after the most recent meeting.
The potential savings include as much as $30 billion in farm subsidies, nearly $20
billion from making graduate students pay interest on college loans while still in school and $16 billion in higher premiums
for private pensions insured by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Airlines could face higher security fees. TV stations could be encouraged to sell
under-used airwaves. And both sides want to save money by overhauling mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Virtually every idea has a ready stable of opponents: The National Association of
Broadcasters opposes voluntary broadcast spectrum sales, fearing that small stations could be pressured by deep-pocket wireless
providers. Big business and organized labor both oppose higher PBGC premiums. And rural conservatives in the Senate have long
protected the nation’s farmers.
Changing the federal pension system is no exception. Worker advocates vow a fierce
fight, arguing that the idea is driven more by partisan ideology than fiscal responsibility.
“There’s a not-so-hidden agenda to go after federal workers and the public
employee unions that represent them. And we’ve seen this across the country, whether in Wisconsin or in the federal
government,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D), a fiscal conservative whose Northern Virginia district is home to nearly
60,000 federal workers.
Even some Republicans are not happy with the House pension proposal. As he cast a
vote for the GOP budget blueprint, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) said, “I regret that the . . . proposal seeks
to make government service an unattractive career choice,” in part “by changing retirement plans.”
Still, the pension proposal is hardly partisan. Third Way, a centrist Democratic
think tank, promoted it in a September brief, arguing that federal workers “enjoy one of the most generous retirement
plans in the country.”
Created in 1986, the system features a thrift savings program similar to a 401(k)
retirement account and a traditional, defined-benefit pension, which is fast disappearing at private companies. The system
provides benefits that are slightly “more generous than what most other middle-class families receive in retirement,”
the brief says, but federal employees contribute strikingly little. Just $1 of every $15 paid into the pension plan, known
as the Federal Employment Retirement System or FERS, comes from workers’ paychecks.
Overall, Third Way calculates that federal taxpayers are far more generous to their
employees than private-sector companies, contributing 12.7 percent of payroll to retirement accounts vs. 5.3 percent in the
“Everyone should have a decent retirement system, but the match there is out
of line,” said Jim Kessler, a Third Way co-founder who said he has been interested in the issue since his days as an
aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“A tiny amount was taken out of my paycheck. And when I left, I kept wondering
how the amount I put in could” generate such handsome benefits, he said.
House Republicans picked up Third Way’s proposal to require workers to contribute
6 percent of salary to FERS, equalizing payments with the federal government. Because workers currently contribute 0.8 percent,
the change would amount to more than a 5 percent pay cut.
Federal employee unions dispute the need for adjustments, arguing that FERS is already
significantly less generous than its predecessor, the Civil Service Retirement System. CSRS paid retirees $2,587 per month
on average in 2007, versus $944 for FERS, according to the National Treasury Employees Union, one of the largest representing
federal workers. And unlike many state employee pension systems, FERS is fully funded.
sort of surprised, actually, to see the attacks on this as if it were some kind of a gold-plated system,” said Gilman,
the union legislative director.
David John, a retirement expert at the Heritage Foundation, agreed that FERS “is
far more responsible than most of the state and local pension plans.” But at a time when the federal government is spending
drastically more than it takes in, he said, it is reasonable to ask whether taxpayers can afford it.
In the private sector, less than 20 percent of workers still have access to a traditional
pension, John said. “With FERS, everyone does.
Will pepper spray make U.S. prisons safer?
The Jan. 29 killing
of Monroe correction officer Jayme Biendl has focused attention on the safety of the people doing the difficult
and dangerous work of running Washington's prisons.
State lawmakers responded by approving legislation, now awaiting
the governor's signature, clearing the way for officers to use special body alarms, panic buttons on radios and, in some instances,
A federal Government Accountability Office report released this month suggests
the Federal Bureau of Prisons could benefit from an evaluation of protective equipment for its corrections officers,
including providing them with pepper spray, batons and better access to other weapons. Washington
Post columnist Joe Davidson wrote Thursday that the American
Federation of Government Employees is citing the report's findings as important to the safety of federal prison workers.
Pepper spray cannisters,
along with special alarms that signal for help even if an officer can't, were recommended by federal corrections experts who
reviewed Washington's prison policies and practices at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire. The review was part of the examination
of the circumstances leading up to Biendl's killing in the chapel at the Washington
State Reformatory. An internal state Corrections Department review is underway, and results are expected within the
next several weeks.
While the federal report focusing on Monroe suggested new equipment for officers, it also made
the point that pepper spray and body alarms alone aren't going to make Washington's prisons safer. The GAO's report reaches
contains similar conclusions:
"Equipment available to officers is one important part of officer safety; however, there
are other factors--such as those related to the movement of inmates throughout the facility and the skills and training of
prison personnel--that impact both officers' safety and the overall safety of the institution."
When correctional officers
By Joe Davidson
Being a prison guard is dangerous work. But life could be a little less hazardous for federal correctional
officers if the Bureau of Prisons provided more protective gear.
That’s the word from the American Federation of Government Employees, which is using a Government Accountability
Office report to press for additional resources.
“Correctional officers are unarmed, violence is increasing and the inmate population has increased,” said Bryan
Lowry, president of the union’s Council of Prison Locals. “Protective equipment such as batons and pepper spray
would greatly enhance officer safety.”
This has been a long-standing complaint by the union, and the report gives them more ammunition:
“States have discretion over the equipment they make available to their officers, and officials in the 14 states
with whom we spoke provided examples of three types of equipment they allow their officers to carry while on duty that BOP
generally does not, including pepper spray and batons,” GAO said. “In addition, officials from 9 of the 14 states
reported that they allow their officers to store personal firearms that they have carried when commuting to and from work
on facility property, which BOP generally does not.”
It’s worth noting, however, that GAO said it knows of no evaluations on the effectiveness of equipment in ensuring
officer safety. And 14 states is far from a majority of the 50.
The union also urged the administration and Congress to continue the Federal Prison Industries work program for inmates.
“It helps keep 18,972 prison inmates productively occupied in labor-intensive activities, thereby reducing inmate
idleness and the violence associated with that idleness,” according to the labor organization. “It also provides
strong incentives to encourage good inmate behavior.”
The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.
The labor of telework
In its “Guide to Telework in the Federal Government,” the Office of Personnel Management provides managers
and employees with information on implementing the telework law that took effect in December.
As with everything in government, Uncle Sam has a series of hurdles that must be jumped before something as simple as working
from home is allowed.
No matter if staffers work from home regularly or only on special occasions, they “must first successfully complete
an interactive telework training program provided by the agency and must enter into a written agreement with his/her supervisor.”
Although the law and the 40-page guide encourage telework, the OPM document also says, in boldface type, “telework
is not an employee right.”
In case employees had any other ideas, the booklet reminds them, again in boldface, “telework is primarily an arrangement
established to facilitate the accomplishment of work.”
By June 7, each executive agency is required to establish a telework policy and notify all workers of telework eligibility,
according to the report. But don’t confuse eligibility with participation. Determination of eligibility for individual
workers is at the discretion of agencies.
There are only two categories of employees deemed ineligible by law: those who have been disciplined for being absent without
permission for more than five days in a year, and those disciplined for downloading or exchanging pornography on a government
Presumably that covers only a small number of workers.
You can say lots of things about the IRS, but don’t accuse it of using bad language, though it has been the target
of profanity more than once.
The agency was presented with a Grand ClearMark Award on Thursday night by the Center of Plain Language for easy-to-follow
directions on two forms.
“The IRS has worked hard to overcome its image with Americans, and these two revised forms are a sign that the IRS
has changed,” said Annetta Cheek, who chairs the center’s board.
The judges cited use of the active voice and the words “we” and “you” to help the agency personally
connect with taxpayers as reasons for honoring the IRS. The forms, still with government code names CP08 and CP21A, can be
found at www.irs.gov.
The Defense Department also was cited by the center but as a finalist for the WonderMark Award, which is given for the
most confounding language.
Read, if you can make your way through it, this 86-word sentence on the Defense Department form that caught the center’s
“In cases when the user has consented to content searching or monitoring of communications or data for personnel
misconduct, law enforcement, or counterintelligence investigative searching, (i.e., for all communications and data other
than privileged communications or data that are related to personal representation or services by attorneys, psychotherapists,
or clergy, and their assistants), the U.S. Government may, solely at its discretion and in accordance with DoD policy, elect
to apply a privilege or other restriction on the U.S. Government’s otherwise-authorized use or disclosure of such information.”
Enough said. Make that too much said.
NIC asked to Survey operation following murder of Washington State corrections officer
In the wake of the murder of Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl, state officials asked for the National Institute
of Corrections to survey Monroe’s operation and offer suggestions for changes to improve officer safety.
federal investigators released their report this week, calling on officers to wear personal body alarms and carry pepper spray
to improve their safety. They suggest fewer inmates per cell and improved training. Those and other recommendations from the
panel must be part of the state’s strategy to respond to the murder of the 34-year-old prison officer, who had been
with the department since 2002.
It was the evening of Jan. 29, at 9:14 p.m. when the staff in the Washington State
Reformatory Unit at Monroe conducted a routine count of offenders and discovered that an inmate was missing. The offender,
Byron Scherf, 52, a convicted rapist, was found three minutes later in chapel lobby and told officers he had planned to escape.
An hour later staff members completed an inventory of equipment and discovered that a correctional officer’s
keys and radio were missing. Staff members immediately went to the chapel where she worked and found her unresponsive. The
staff conducted CPR and called for immediate medical assistance. Emergency responders declared officer Biendle dead at the
scene at 10:49 p.m. and the prison was placed on immediate lockdown.
Scherf has pleaded not guilty to aggravated first-degree
murder in Snohomish County Superior Court and could face the death penalty if convicted. According to court documents, Scherf
earlier confessed to killing Biendl, saying he was angry with the way she spoke to him minutes earlier.
superintendent of the Department of Corrections, said, "We will look for ways to make prisons safer for our staff in addition
to the actions we have already taken. We recognize every correctional agency can find ways to improve and are working closely
with the National Institute of Corrections to find additional steps we can take to ensure the safety of our staff members.
Among a handful of state reviews, the governor asked for an outside review from the National Institute of Corrections
which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. The institute provides training, policy development
and other services to federal, state, and local corrections agencies.
Now Vail and Gregoire have the blueprint for
progress, not just at Monroe, but across the state’s prison system. Among more than a dozen safety improvements are:
Adding custody staff at all major facilities who are responsible for ensuring the whereabouts of all prison employees.
Evaluating and enhancing the radio system to include moving panic buttons to the microphone area.
a proximity card system at the Washington State Reformatory and the Washington State Penitentiary to track staff locations.
Follow up with installation at all facilities.
Former OSC chief to spend at least a month in prison
By Dan Friedman
A federal magistrate judge ruled Wednesday evening that Scott Bloch, the controversial former head
of the Office of Special Counsel, must serve at least one month in prison
for a misdemeanor contempt-of-Congress charge. Bloch pleaded guilty last year to withholding information from a House oversight
committee that was investigating what he claimed was the accidental deletion of files on government computers being sought
by investigators examining whether Bloch improperly forced out former OSC employees. Both legal teams argued that the law
for contempt of Congress can be punishable with a term of no less than one month, but that the sentence is not mandatory.
In her ruling, however, Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson wrote that Congress "expressly provided for a mandatory minimum
sentence of one month... that the language by which it did so is unambiguous; and that no authority permits the court to disregard
the provision, or to interpret it other than in accordance with its plain meaning."
The sentencing comes more than a week after OSC released a report concluding an investigation begun by Bloch, which found
that White House and Cabinet officials in the Bush administration violated laws against political activity by federal employees.
Critics of the investigation argue that Bloch's sentencing undermines the legitimacy of the probe.
Inmate strikes employee at US Penitentiary Atwater
By MIKE NORTH
ATWATER -- A correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater was taken to a hospital Tuesday afternoon after being assaulted
by an inmate.
The assault is under investigation, said Miguel Chavez, public information officer for USP Atwater. Union officials confirmed
the injured employee was a correctional officer, but the prison hasn't released the officer's gender or identity.
The inmate approached the officer about 2 p.m. and struck the officer in the face inside one of the prison's housing units,
Chavez said. After being treated for injuries by the prison's medical staff, the officer was taken to a hospital for evaluation
as a precautionary measure, Chavez said. The officer is in stable condition.
The inmate was subdued, and the FBI has been notified about the assault, Chavez said.
Andy Krotik, spokesman for the organization Friends and Family of Correctional Officers, said the assault is an example
of why correctional officers need batons, mace and better stab-proof vests to safely perform their jobs.
The correctional officer was conducting a routine cell search alone when the incident happened, Krotik said. The officer
sustained major head trauma and was drenched in blood from head to toe after the assault.
Friends and Family of Correctional Officers was created soon after USP Atwater Correctional Officer Jose Rivera was killed
in 2008 at the prison by two drunken inmates who stabbed him to death in a housing unit.
"Yet again, this just goes to prove that correctional officers at USP Atwater do not have the tools to defend themselves,"
Krotik said about Tuesday's attack.
Deactivating six of the prison's seven security towers in January also has caused concern for correctional officer safety,
said Krotik, adding that 18 positions vacated from the towers should be used to increase staffing in housing units.
Instead, the 18 freed-up shifts have been used to alleviate overtime, he said. "How many more attacks and how many more
people have to die?" Krotik said. "It's a ticking time bomb."
In the housing units, it's common for one correctional officer to be among more than 100 inmates, often with nothing more
than a set of keys and a panic button, he said.
Donald Martin, AFGE Local 1242 Atwater Prison Union president and chief executive officer, said correctional officer safety
should be a priority, and he agreed with Krotik's ways to make that happen.
"Our priority right now is getting support to our brother officer and his family," Martin said. "We continue to believe
that putting a second officer in the housing units as well as properly equipping our officers is key to improving safety at
The prison went on temporary lockdown after the incident, Chavez said.
This was the first assault by an inmate on a staff member at the prison this year.
USP Atwater houses about 1,150 high-security male inmates.
Rest In Peace Officer Johnson
SD Officer Murdered During Failed Escape Attempt
By Dirk Lammers
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — One of the inmates suspected of killing a 63-year-old guard during a failed South Dakota prison
break had escaped the state penitentiary two other times during his 27-year criminal history.
The state Department of Corrections says inmates Rodney Berget and Eric Robert, both 48, tried to escape shortly before
11 a.m. Tuesday, assaulting and killing officer Ronald Johnson in the process. The Corrections Department said the inmates
were apprehended on the prison grounds and taken to a jail in Sioux Falls . They have not yet been charged in the guard's
Berget has been in and out of South Dakota 's prison system since the mid-1980s and is serving life sentences for attempted
murder and kidnapping. He was convicted of escaping from the penitentiary in 1984 while serving time on a possession of stolen
property charge. Then, in 1987, he and five other inmates broke out of the same facility on Memorial Day by cutting through
bars in an auto shop. Berget was caught in mid-July of that year.
John Fitzgerald, Lawrence County state's attorney, thought Berget would have no more opportunities to commit crimes after
he pleaded guilty in Dec. 2003 to attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to kill his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend.
"It's shocking to me as a prosecuting attorney, but he's a very violent person." Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said that on June 2, 2003, Berget waited outside a house in Lead for the boyfriend to show up. Before the boyfriend
could open the front door, Berget shot through the door's glass window, hitting the man in the stomach, then entered the house
to try to kill him, Fitzgerald said.
According to Fitzgerald, Berget's ex-girlfriend stopped Berget when she drew a gun from the bed stand.
"When he was captured, he confessed that his intent was to go in there and kill, murder the boyfriend," Fitzgerald said.
"And then he also said that his intent was to kidnap and torture the woman.
"Luckily she had a gun ... otherwise, I think, he would have got the job done."
Berget, of Aberdeen , also was convicted in Meade County for kidnapping a convenience store clerk in Sturgis. He was arrested
and the clerk escaped after troopers used road spikes to stop the car near Midland .
Robert, the other suspect in Tuesday's killing and attempted escape, is serving an 80-year sentence for a kidnapping conviction.
In that case, an 18-year-old woman told police a man posing as a plainclothes police officer pulled over her car near Black
Hawk, told her he needed to search it and then forced her into the trunk. She used her cell phone to call for help, and she
was found unharmed.
Robert, of Piedmont , pleaded guilty to kidnapping in a 2005 plea bargain.
Johnson, who worked at the penitentiary for more than 23 years, was pronounced dead at a hospital, and a second guard suffered
minor injuries in the incident. The department did not release the second guard's name or further details about the escape
attempt or attack.
Johnson, a father of two and grandfather of six, died on his birthday, said his son, Jesse Johnson.
"That's kind of the gut-wrenching thing about it," he told the Argus Leader newspaper.
Jesse Johnson said his father, known to friends and family as R.J., had lived through a riot at the penitentiary in 1993
and knew the danger of his job but never dwelled on it.
"He loved to relax and play with his grandkids," the son said. "He never had a bad thing to say about anybody."
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said the state Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating and more
information would be released once the initial investigation and charging decisions are complete.
If the inmates are charged and convicted of murdering Johnson while trying to escape, prosecutors could seek the death
Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the state will act swiftly to bring the accused to justice and ensure the safety of prison staff.
"This incident is a somber reminder that our prison guards put themselves at risk, every day, to protect South Dakota from
our worst criminals," Daugaard said in a statement.
Before Tuesday's incident, two corrections officers had been killed by inmates in the 130-year-history of the state penitentiary,
the Argus Leader reported. Corrections records show that 72-year-old Warden Eugene Reiley was killed in 1936, and officer
Edward Jaworski was killed in 1951.
Johnson is the first law enforcement official killed in the line of duty in South Dakota since the 2009 slaying of Turner
County Sheriff's Deputy Chad Mechels by 21-year-old Ethan Johns, who was sentenced to life.
RYAN’S BUDGET PLAN A ‘SHAMEFUL ATTACK’ ON PUBLIC WORKERS, UNION LEADER SAYS
Proposal relies on false, misleading claims to suit partisan agenda
WASHINGTON – House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has lost any shred of integrity by introducing a 2012 budget
resolution that is full of false assumptions, misleading statements and factual errors, the head of the largest federal employee
union said today.
"Congressman Ryan unfairly targets federal workers by proposing to freeze federal wages, cut the work force and drastically
raise pension contributions," American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage said. "It’s a
shameful attack on federal workers who were not the cause of this massive budget deficit and can’t be the cure."
"While that’s bad enough, Congressman Ryan doesn’t even bother to check his facts. His budget proposal contains
so many inaccurate and outright preposterous claims that it wouldn’t hold up to a middle school debate team," Gage said.
In attempting to justify extending to five years the current freeze on federal wages and salaries, Ryan compares average
federal wages to median private sector wages. Even worse, his so-called "median private sector wage" actually is a
median household income figure from the Census Bureau.
"Paul Ryan isn’t just comparing apples to oranges; he’s comparing a single apple to a basket full of oranges.
It’s rotten any way you slice it," Gage said.
Ryan says he’s "applying private-sector realities" to federal employees’ pay and benefits by proposing to dramatically
increase federal employees’ contributions to their pensions. What he fails to mention is that the current system is
fully funded and was created by President Reagan to explicitly match private sector practice, Gage said.
Ryan also makes the nonsensical claim that cutting the number of federal workers will boost private-sector employment and
specifically criticizes the increase in federal workers during the Obama administration. This despite the fact that three-fourths
of that increase was in three departments – Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security – in response to national
security requirements that predated President Obama’s election.
"I’d like Paul Ryan to explain to me how supporting our troops, taking care of our wounded warriors and protecting
our borders is hampering private-sector job creation," Gage said.
Ryan’s budget plan also is full of doublespeak meant to appease certain folks who can read between the lines, Gage
said. Although he talks about "ending corporate welfare," what he’s proposing is just the opposite.
"He wants to repeal the financial reforms Congress put in place after the financial meltdown, dismantle modest environmental
protections even as oil spills and nuclear meltdowns make headlines around the world and cut the tax rate for the wealthiest
Americans," Gage said.
"I urge lawmakers not to be fooled by the catchy slogans and feel good hyperbole in Paul Ryan’s budget plan. This
is just more of the same from a Republican-led House that is intent on killing safety net programs for the middle and lower
classes while giving even larger tax breaks to the wealthy."
Treasury may borrow federal retirement funds in debt emergency
By SEAN REILLY April 5, 2011
The government could temporarily tap tens of billions of dollars from two federal employee retirement programs if Congress
fails to raise the federal debt ceiling next month, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers.
The government expects to hit a $14.3 trillion debt ceiling on May 16 or before, Geithner said in a Monday letter.
Geither implored Congress to extend the debt ceiling by that deadline and said that if Congress does not, Treasury will
be forced to borrow money from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, and the Thrift Savings Plan's Government
Securities Investment Fund, or G Fund, both of which are invested in U.S. Treasury securities. Those two moves could free
up $142 billion through early July.
The government has taken similar steps before with no effect upon federal retirees. If the debt ceiling is extended by
Congress within a couple months of the deadline, retirees and TSP participants should have nothing to worry about, several
experts said. By law, both funds have to be repaid with interest, said Susan Irving, director for federal budget analysis
at the Government Accountability Office.
"I would anticipate no impact," echoed Dan Adcock, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees
Geithner said borrowing money from the federal retirement programs and other "extraordinary measures" available to the
government would stave off the need to raise the debt ceiling until around July 8. Once those measures are exhausted, the
government "will be limited in its ability to make payments across the government," Geithner said.
In that case, retirees' pensions could be affected. Adcock said that, if that were to happen, any impact on retirement
payouts would be "the least of their problems because we'll face a worldwide economic collapse.
"I think people would understand what's at stake and cooler heads would prevail," Adcock added.
Bill would boost federal manager training
By Kellie LunneyApril 12, 2011
Lawmakers on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would require agencies to provide
regular training to federal managers.
The bipartisan bill would require federal supervisors to receive training within
one year of becoming a manager, and once every three years after that. Training topics include developing and discussing goals
and objectives with employees; mentoring; managing poor performers; and understanding collective bargaining rights.
The legislation also directs the Office of Personnel Management to develop required
competencies for managers that agencies would use to assess individual performance. In addition, agencies would have to create
a mentoring program for new supervisors to use to learn from experienced managers.
The Federal Managers Association and the Professional Managers Association praised
the bill. "Managerial prowess is not inherent, and independent research has concluded that arming federal managers and supervisors
with the skills needed to promote employee accountability, engagement and teamwork leads to improved agency performance,"
said FMA National President Patricia Niehaus.
The bill's sponsor is Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Homeland
Security and Governmental Affairs federal workforce subcommittee. He was joined on the House side by three Northern Virginia
representatives -- Democrats Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran, and Republican Frank Wolf.
"Improving training for federal supervisors," Wolf said, "will create a better work
environment for all federal employees, increase employee performance and productivity, and lead to a more effective federal
The bill would expand on supervisor training requirements in the 2004 Federal Workforce
Flexibility Act, which directs agencies to devise manager training programs.
Late U.S. budget deal avoids costly shutdown
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional leaders struck a
last-minute budget deal on Friday to narrowly avert a government shutdown that would have hit the economy and idled hundreds
of thousands of workers.
With a little over an hour to spare before a midnight deadline, Obama's Democrats and opposition
Republicans agreed to a bitterly fought compromise plan that will cut about $38 billion in spending for the rest of the fiscal
Congress then quickly approved a stopgap funding measure to keep the federal government running into next week
until the budget agreement can be formally approved.
A shutdown -- the first in more than 15 years -- would have weakened
the U.S. economic recovery, forced furloughs for some 800,000 federal employees, closed national parks and monuments and even
delayed paychecks for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the biggest incentive for a deal may have been the risks
that failure would have posed for Obama, his Democrats and the Republicans just as the 2012 presidential election campaign
Public frustration over the budget fight had surged as Democrats and Republicans traded blame and a
"Tomorrow, I'm pleased to announce that the Washington Monument as well as the entire federal government
will be open for business," Obama said in a late-night appearance at the White House shortly after the agreement was reached.
provides the largest spending cuts in U.S. history, a victory for Republicans who won control of the House of Representatives
in November on promises to scale back government.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who came under intense
pressure from Tea Party conservatives inside his own Republican Party to take an even tougher stance, said the deal clears
the way for bigger spending cuts in coming years.
But Obama and the Democrats were able to beat back a Republican effort
to block birth control funding to the Planned Parenthood family planning organization, because it also provides abortions
-- though not with public money.
"Both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important
to them," Obama said. "Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful."
Still, the fight did
little to improve the view Americans have of their political leaders, and raised concerns about the ability of Obama and a
divided Congress to deal with bigger issues, from raising the federal debt ceiling to reining in budget deficits.
some lawmakers said the bitter feuding had sent a bad message to the rest of the world.
"They've got to be laughing
at us right now" in China, said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.
Fears that a government shutdown
would hurt economic growth had pressured the dollar and U.S. Treasury prices on Friday.
All sides agreed the debate
had been long and painful.
"It has been a grueling process. We didn't do it at this late hour for drama. We did it
because it has been very hard to arrive at this point," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.
deal was finally reached, White House Budget Director Jack Lew told federal agencies to continue their normal operations.
there will almost certainly be a much bigger showdown over the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1.
are already pledging to slash taxes and overhaul Medicaid and Medicare, government-run health programs for the poor and elderly.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is likely to flatly reject those plans.
A government shutdown could have been a negative
for Obama as he seeks re-election. But there were significant risks for Republican leaders, too, especially if they were seen
as being under the thumb of Tea Party radicals.
The budget battle has dominated Obama's agenda even as he struggles
to balance Americans' chief concerns -- jobs and the economy -- with foreign policy challenges topped by Middle East turmoil
and U.S. military involvement in the Libyan conflict.
Agencies told to begin furlough notifications
By Robert BrodskyApril 7, 2011
Federal employees can expect to begin receiving furlough notices immediately,
according to a memo
to agency officials released on Thursday by the Office of Management and Budget.
Agency leadership should tell employees if they will be considered "exempt"
and allowed to continue working, or if they will be furloughed if the existing temporary budget law expires at 11:59 p.m.
on Friday, the memo from OMB Director Jacob "Jack" Lew said.
Agencies are encouraged to issue furlough notices electronically.
Lew said agencies must complete the notification process no later than the
close of business on Friday, which will be considered a "normal workday" for employees.
"We know that the current uncertainty and threat of a shutdown is a tremendous
burden on federal employees and therefore, earlier this week, we encouraged agencies to reach out to all employees regarding
the possible lapse in appropriations," he wrote.
Agencies also are encouraged to immediately reach out to stakeholders, such
as federal labor unions, state, local and tribal governments, grantees, contractors, and congressional committees to discuss
their contingency planning, he wrote.
"We're taking these steps because responsible management demands it," OMB
Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients said during a White House press briefing. "We still hope that we do not have to execute the
plans, but we are prepared to implement if necessary."
If funding lapses, then federal workers, including those who are furloughed,
will be allowed to perform up to four hours of work on their next scheduled workday to conduct orderly shutdown activities.
"Ordinarily, furloughed employees should take no more than three or four hours
to provide necessary notices and contact information, secure their files, complete time and attendance records, and otherwise
make preparations to preserve their work," Lew wrote.
Nonexempted employees who are scheduled to telework on their next scheduled
workday will be allowed to perform these shutdown activities from their telework location. Agencies also can allow other nonexempt
employees to conduct these shutdown activities from a remote location if those tasks can be done quickly -- in an estimated
15 minutes -- even if they were not scheduled to telecommute. Such activities would include receiving and acknowledging receipt
of an electronic furlough notice, and updating voicemail and email responses to reflect their current work status, the memo
Agencies will have the discretion to decide if furloughed employees must turn
in their work-issued BlackBerrys, cellphones or laptops, or if they simply should be instructed to cease to use the devices
during a shutdown.
"Orderly shutdown procedures should not rely on mobile devices or home access
to work email for providing notices of when to return to work," the memo said. "Agencies have discretion to enforce these
access restrictions in light of their own particular needs. Some may choose, for example, to include in orderly shutdown activities
a requirement that furloughed employees turn in their BlackBerrys until they return to the office; others may determine that
circumstances warrant a different approach."
Agencies also will have some leeway in dealing with employees on temporary
duty assignments away from their normal duty stations. Those workers are encouraged, OMB said, to make arrangements to return
home sooner than anticipated "wherever reasonable and practicable. However, agencies should make a determination of reasonableness
and practicality based on the length of the assignment and the time required for return travel, compared to the anticipated
length of the lapse, so as to minimize the burdens of doing so."
Shutdown would close 5 national parks, could
slow some contract work
WASHINGTON - As budget talks in Congress stood
at an impasse Tuesday, federal workers and contractors across Minnesota began bracing for a government shutdown looming as
early as Friday at midnight.
Mail and Social Security checks would still get
delivered, along with other "essential" services, such as medical care at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center.
But Minnesota's five national parks and recreation
areas would close and some of the state's largest institutions and businesses could see grants and contracts interrupted by
a federal funding lapse.
How much depends on partisan differences that are
pitting the Obama administration against GOP leaders in the U.S. House, where a Tea Party faction that includes Minnesota
Republican Michele Bachmann is pressing for deeper cuts.
Facing a potential shutdown with uncertain political
consequences, Bachmann downplayed the consequences should the two sides fail to reach a deal or bridge a gap of tens of billions
of dollars for the fiscal year that ends in September.
"There is no such thing as a true government shutdown,"
Bachmann said at a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill last week. "If government shuts down, it's actually a slowdown."
One twist that has received little attention in
the budget debate is that state businesses could feel the shutdown before the public does.
From the University of Minnesota to Rochester's
Mayo Clinic, federal contractors and large institutions here rely on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
That money would stop flowing after Friday.
"In a nutshell, any shutdown of the federal government
would have a negative impact on the University of Minnesota," said Daniel Wolter, a spokesman for the university, which received
$800 million in competitive research grants last year, most of which were federal.
A brief shutdown would cause only a ripple, Wolter
said. In a protracted shutdown, he said, "the cash flow problem gets larger."
Students face less of a problem. Virtually all
of the university's spring financial aid has been dispersed. Students who want to change their aid could be affected. But
Wolter said "there are a range of options for dealing with these kinds of wrinkles, so it's fair to say it would amount to
more of a hassle than anything else."
Mayo officials are keeping an eye on research funding
from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It accounts for 41 percent of Mayo's research budget.
"Mayo Clinic has developed detailed contingency
plans," said Randy Schubring, Mayo's government relations spokesman. "We are confident that if a short-term shutdown does
occur, it will not affect day-to-day research operations."
Prominent Minnesota businesses such as 3M, Cargill
and Medtronic have contracts worth tens of millions of dollars for medical technology, research and military equipment. One
of the state's biggest military contractors, Champlin-based Deco Inc., with more than $100 million in security contracts this
year, is preparing for the worst.
"We enter our contracts knowing the government
has the right to reduce or eliminate services anywhere in the world on a moment's notice," said Deco president and co-owner
Derek Dorr. "If Deco is required to reduce services, we in turn reduce workforce."
If history serves as a guide, it's unlikely that
a furlough for the state's estimated 10,000 federal workers will produce much savings for taxpayers.
Jane Nygaard, a retired VA nurse who went through
the last government shutdown in the mid-'90s, said that in the end, even those non-essential government workers who were shut
out of work for three weeks got all their pay.
"When the furlough was done, everyone got paid,
whether you worked or not," said Nygaard, now national vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees
District 8, which includes Minnesota.
Still on the job
Not only that, but after subtracting essential
workers such as nurses, air-traffic controllers, meat inspectors, prison guards and border patrol agents, a big chunk of the
federal bureaucracy stays in operation.
"Everyone talks about downsizing the federal government,"
Nygaard said. "But when you really talk about cutting services, all these agencies do things people take for granted."
Among the most conspicuous effects of a shutdown
would be the shuttering of the national parks.
"We would just cease operations, which would include,
most visibly, our visitor center," said Paul Labovitz, superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
After a half-dozen, stop-gap funding measures since
last October, Minnesota lawmakers in Congress were also making plans to stay in Washington over the weekend -- a sign there
may be no deal by Friday.
"The speaker's got himself in a bind," said Minnesota
Democrat Tim Walz, referring to Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. "I think they're gonna shut 'erdown."
Meanwhile, Minnesota Republican John Kline, a close
ally of Boehner, expressed his frustration at an impasse over just six months' worth of federal funding -- the remainder of
the 2011 fiscal year. With an eye toward 2012's even bigger potential spending cuts, Kline said, "that's where the real debate
AFGE: Shutdown would violate anti-slavery
One of the great unresolved questions about the
possible government shutdown is whether essential employees who remain on the job would eventually get paid for the work they
did. Experts first told us most likely yes, although not until the budget mess is resolved.
But the Office of Personnel Management muddied
the waters last month at a labor-management council meeting when General Counsel Elaine Kaplan said that’s an outstanding
legal issue that was left unresolved after the last shutdown. In 1996, Congress decided to pay everybody back — even
those who were furloughed.
So nobody really knows whether you’ll ever
get paid if you are called back into work this time. It may come down to how generous Congress is feeling toward federal employees
these days. (Hint: Not very.)
The American Federation of Government Employees
thinks this smacks of involuntary servitude, and would violate the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed
slavery in 1865. AFGE National President John Gage sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder March 28 making that argument,
and warning it may be unconstitutional:
Dedicated federal employees will come to work because
of their commitment to the people they serve, but they should not be forced to do so under threat of termination and with
no compensation. I urge you to work with AFGE and the Office of Management and Budget to craft a plan that avoids the harsh
result of federal employees being forced to work without pay or be fired if they are not willing to do so.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
outlawed involuntary servitude in 1865 by mandating that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment
for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to
their jurisdiction.” Yet in 2011 the same government that is charged with defending the Constitution appears to be preparing
to order vast numbers of civilian employees, who have committed no crime, to work without pay under the threat [of] government
initiated administrative discipline. This is frankly outrageous, and we fail to see how such a sweeping order survives constitutional
Unions press administration for shutdown
Federal unions are pressing the Obama administration
to share its plans for how it will handle a possible government shutdown that could occur after April 8.
The American Federation of Government Employees
filed a lawsuit March 30 to force the Obama administration to release its shutdown plans.
And the National Federation of Federal Employees
sent a letter Tuesday to President Obama and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients
that said that time has come. NFFE cited Zients' April 4 memo ordering agencies to share contingency plans with senior managers
as a sign the shutdown is imminent.
"With a potential government shutdown just days
away, it is imperative that federal employees and their union representatives gain access to these documents," NFFE President
Bill Dougan said. "It is detrimental to the morale and overall well-being of the workforce to withhold these plans any longer.
Now is the time to share these plans with the hardworking federal employees who will be impacted the most by a government
AFGE National President John Gage said in a press
conference Tuesday that the administration refuses to tell unions anything about what a shutdown might look like, even though
AFGE filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the plans March 2. AFGE wants to know which employees will be deemed essential
and kept working during a shutdown, how other employees' furloughs will work, and how agencies plan to communicate with employees
if the government shuts down after funding runs out April 8.
Gage said he doesn't know why the administration
insists on keeping the plans under wraps.
"If this is some mindset that, ‘Well, we
don't want to panic employees,' we're grownups," Gage said. "We want to hear what is going to happen so that we can plan our
lives and try to make the best of a bad situation."
Unions also asked Zients to release the plans at
the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations' March 16 meeting, but Zients said they were not finished yet.
He said they would be made available to unions and employees when a shutdown was imminent.
Union sues government over lack of shutdown
The largest federal employee union is suing the
government for failing to provide its leadership with specific details on how a shutdown would affect the federal workforce.
"Just call it for what it is, and explain how extensive
it will be," John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said of the looming government shutdown
during a Tuesday press briefing. The current continuing resolution that is keeping the government open expires this Friday,
AFGE early last month filed an expedited request
with the Office of Management and Budget under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking agencies' contingency plans in the
event of a government shutdown. AFGE then filed a complaint dated March 30 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
against OMB for failing to respond to its expedited request and provide the information. OMB acknowledged through an official
letter to AFGE that it had received the request.
On Monday, OMB sent a memo to agencies directing
them to begin preparing their employees for a potential government shutdown. Despite the updated communication, the Obama
administration still has not instructed agencies to release copies of their individual shutdown guidance spelling out which
employees would be deemed "essential" and allowed to continue working during a shutdown and who would be ordered to stay home,
potentially without pay.
"I don't see how having a plan and not notifying
your employees about it is any kind of plan," Gage said during the press conference.
Gage said that while the union doesn't want a shutdown,
it is preferable to the billions of dollars in spending cuts that lawmakers have proposed. "Employees won't like it [a government
shutdown], but they'll understand," he said. Gage estimated the shutdown would last "at least the weekend." He said if the
government ceases operation, then the union will instruct its members to report to work and line up outside their offices
if they're not allowed in, so "the American people can at least see that federal employees know the importance of their jobs."
OMB did not respond to a request for comment.
Agencies are required through OMB Circular A-11
to develop plans for a government hiatus, including information such as the time it will take to complete the shutdown and
the number of essential employees they plan to retain. OMB, the Justice Department and the Office of Personnel Management
are supposed to provide agencies with guidance; agencies in turn must inform employees in advance of an impending shutdown
and of their status under such circumstances.
The last time the government shut down in 1995
and 1996, for 27 days at an overall cost of $1.4 billion, furloughed federal employees were paid retroactively for the time
they were off the job. But it's up to Congress to decide whether to reimburse employees for the time lost, and lawmakers might
not be disposed to do so during the current fiscal climate.
In addition to the potential government shutdown,
Gage also addressed current legislative proposals to reduce or cut federal employees' pay and benefits. "I don't see this
as a shared sacrifice kind of issue. It's more like spread the pain," he said. As for pay-for-performance issues, Gage said
the union has proposed to OPM a simpler, "more honest" performance evaluation system, which would root out poor performers
without creating more red tape for managers.
AFGE currently is vying to represent transportation
security officers who just received collective bargaining rights at the Transportation Security Administration. If employees
vote for AFGE representation, Gage said the union's first priority will be to try to dismantle the agency's performance evaluation
system, known as PASS. "It's terrible," he said. "The workers hate it to a person."
Union Sues OMB to Force Release of Shutdown
With the threat of a government shutdown once again
looming, the nation's largest union for federal workers is suing the Office of Management and Budget to release agency contingency
plans in an effort to give employees some idea of what they can expect if Congress can't agree on a new funding measure by
Each federal agency is required to create a contingency
plan for a shutdown, but after receiving no response to repeated attempts to obtain those plans through Freedom of Information
Act requests, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President John Gage announced today that the union had filed
suit in U.S. District Court late last week.
"I don't see how having a plan and not keeping
your employees informed of the plan helps anyone," Gage said at an event at the National Press Club this morning. "We're not
trying to say that our people won't stand up for the jobs that they love, but I think the American public and President Obama's
administration should understand that people have families, they have obligations, they should know before the eve of a shutdown
what is happening."
Gage's group is making its own contingency plans.
This week, AFGE is continuing to run an ad blitz
on 100 radio stations that urges public employees to contact Congress to oppose cuts to the federal government. And if a government
shutdown does occur, Gage said his organization will file another lawsuit on behalf of the many federal employees whose services
would be deemed "essential" and therefore be forced to work but who would not paid until the budget crisis is resolved. That
lawsuit would be filed under the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude.
If the shutdown stretches into next week, Gage
plans to call on all federal employees to show up at their offices anyway on either Tuesday or Wednesday.
"If they don't let them into work, the American
public at least can see that federal employees know the importance of their jobs," he said.
And while he was critical of the White House for
its failure to keep employees informed about shutdown plans, Gage didn't spare Congress for playing what he described as partisan
games with the livelihood of federal workers. He was particularly critical of the deep cuts that Republicans have proposed
in their various funding measures.
"When you look at where these cuts are, you can
see it's not a deficit issue, it is about going after programs that a certain group never liked to begin with," he said.
Gage pointed to U.S. EPA as a clear example of
If the GOP gets its way at EPA, "it will really
hit inspections, it will really hit water and air" regulations, he said.
Looking beyond the looming threat of a shutdown,
Gage also defended federal employees against ongoing efforts to cut the annual "step increases" that are still allowed for
despite the two-year pay freeze that President Obama announced late last year. That effort is being led by Republicans in
the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
On Friday, committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
and federal workforce Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking
for a study of the current General Schedule pay adjustment system and specifically whether that system recognizes employee
performance. Ross spokesman Fred Piccolo today described the General Schedule system as a failure.
"Rep. Ross spent 20 years as a business owner,"
Piccolo said. "There are common-sense business practices that the federal government must employ."
For example, he said, the federal government could
extend to two years the probationary period for a new hire so that person's effectiveness can be determined. It could also
utilize performance metrics rather than years of service to determine who gets promoted.
"The federal pay system is inflexible, rewards
longevity and stagnation, and is not conducive to a mobile and skilled 21st-century workforce," Piccolo said. He said that
whatever system is included in legislation that will be proposed through the committee "will be to the benefit of performing
federal employees and an end for those addicted to the status quo."
Gage said federal employees could certainly use
a much simpler performance management system but said that they deserve the raises they do get under the current system.
"You might have to just recognize that federal
employees do a pretty good job; they are well educated; they are seasoned employees," he said.
Union blasts secretive Obama administration
over looming shutdown
Weeks after President Obama took office, John Gage,
the head of the largest union for federal workers in the country, gave a speech hailing the new administration as a champion
for "transparency, accountability and good government."
But in a sharply worded federal lawsuit filed last
week, that same union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), accused the Obama administration of keeping
important government records secret.
Representing more than a half-million federal workers,
the union sued the White House budget office and its director, Jacob J. Lew, in U.S. District Court in Washington over what
it called the office's "unlawful" failure to respond to an expedited Freedom of Information Act request.
The union filed the information request last month
because it wants the Office of Management and Budget to turn over contingency plans on how federal agencies will handle a
potential government shutdown, including a list of all federal employees who will continue to report to work "to protect life
AFGE officials also want to know about any guidance
from the OMB regarding when federal agencies should implement shutdown plans and how they should do so.
"It's not something that should be cavalierly handled,"
Mr. Gage said. "If a shutdown goes on, there will be federal employees who are going to be hurt financially. They should know
before the eve of a shutdown what is happening, and it should be done orderly and not in a last-minute rush."
Asked about the lawsuit, an OMB spokeswoman Tuesday
said the administration has taken unprecedented steps to improve government transparency and "shutdown planning is no exception."
"We still believe there is an opportunity to avoid
a costly government shutdown, which would cause undue harm to the lives of federal employees, the services millions of Americans
rely on and the economic recovery," spokeswoman Meg Reilly said.
"Plans for shutdown operations, which are governed
by the law, remain in development and are pre-decisional at this time. When plans are finalized and reviewed for sensitive
information, we will work with agencies to provide it to the public."
In its request for shutdown plans, the union asked
OMB for expedited processing, citing an urgent need for the information.
"For example, because this request relates to the
possible shutdown of the United States Government due to a failure of its Congress and President to provide appropriated funds
for government operations, it cannot be disputed that this is a matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which
there exists possible questions about the government's integrity which effect public confidence," AFGE Assistant General Counsel
Andres M. Grajales wrote in the union's request to OMB.
The request letter also cites Mr. Obama's memo
on the Freedom of Information Act issued days after he took office directing agencies to "adopt a presumption in favor of
disclosure." In that Jan. 21, 2009, memo, Mr. Obama said, "Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will
be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well-grounded in the Constitution."
Mr. Obama also moved to undo the 2001 guidance
by Attorney General John Ashcroft that gave government agencies new grounds to deny the release of records. In new directives,
Mr. Obama said agencies instead should presume records are open and that the "mere fact you have the legal power to keep something
secret does not mean you should."
According to the AFGE lawsuit, however, OMB hasn't
provided a response to the union's request as of March 29, nor has the office issued a determination on whether officials
will grant the union's request for expedited processing.
In the meantime, the union wants a federal judge
to order OMB to turn over the shutdown contingency plans and pay for the union's legal fees in connection with the lawsuit.
The administration's handling of FOIA requests
surfaced as a big issue on Capitol Hill last week. Republicans held a hearing scrutinizing a practice by political appointees
in the Department of Homeland Security of approving the release of open records requests, which officials at the department
said had been discontinued.
The Washington Times conducted a governmentwide
FOIA audit in February 2010 by filing requests to more than 100 federal agencies for reports they prepared for the Obama-Biden
presidential transition team.
Many agencies have responded, but some have not.
Others said they could not locate the records. The Drug Enforcement Administration took more than a year to issue a response
letter recently saying The Times' request wasn't specific enough. Larger agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human
Services, responding to the same request produced thousands of pages of records within weeks.
Union Sends EPA 'Demand To Bargain' Over
Looming Government Shutdown
EPA's labor unions are demanding a voice in planning
at the agency for a government shutdown that could begin as soon as April 8, saying staff is being left out of the loop as
EPA officials decide which employees would be furloughed if a continuing resolution allowing the government to continue operating
expires at the end of the week.
The American Federation of Government Employees
(AFGE) council representing EPA workers April 5 sent to EPA management a “demand to bargain” on plans for a potential
shutdown. The council represents more than 10,000 EPA employees across 14 local unions.
The latest demand was conveyed in an email, obtained
by Inside EPA, to EPA Assistant Administrator of the Office of Administration and Resource Management Craig Hooks and other
Among the concerns cited in the demand include
which employees would be considered “essential,” allowing them to keep working through a shutdown; how a shutdown
would affect work or contract deadlines; and what activities employees could engage in during a shutdown.
Union officials have been requesting updates from
EPA since early March, when the first potential shutdown deadline loomed, but they say EPA has refused to provide any substantive
response to their requests. State officials raised similar concerns last week about the dearth of information they have received
from EPA on the effect of a shutdown.
An EPA spokesman referred questions to the White
House Office of Management & Budget (OMB), which expressed optimism that a shutdown could be avoided but said planning
was underway. “We still believe that there is an opportunity to avoid a costly government shutdown, which would cause
undue harm to the lives of federal employees, the services millions of Americans rely on, and the economic recovery underway,”
an OMB spokeswoman says. “Plans for shutdown operations, which are governed by the law, remain in development and are
pre-decisional at this time.
When plans are finalized and reviewed for sensitive
information, we will work with Agencies to provide to the public.”
Congress has to this point prevented a shutdown
by passing short-term continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government running, but House Republicans, Senate Democrats
and the White House seem to have reached an impasse in negotiations as the latest CR is set to expire April 8.
While House Republicans April 4 released a short-term
CR to continue funding the government through April 15, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters April 5 that
the White House has rejected their proposal. The GOP measure cut an additional $900 million from EPA's budget for fiscal year
2011, on top of about $237 million in cuts enacted through a previous short-term measure. That would bring the agency’s
overall budget to more than $1.1 billion below its FY10 level of $10.3 billion -- and within range of the levels requested
by the Obama administration for fiscal year 2012.
The short-term bill does not include any of the
controversial amendments aimed at limiting EPA authority that House Republicans included in H.R.
1, their longer-term FY11 funding measure, though
House Republicans continue to insist they would like to see some policy limitations included in the final bill.
Collective Bargaining Agreement
In their effort to force EPA to bargain over shutdown
procedures, union officials are arguing that under their collective bargaining agreement, the agency may not “change
a term or condition of employment that has a significant impact on employees” without providing notice to employees
and engaging in bargaining if the union requests it.
A union source says that if EPA ignores the demand,
the union could file an unfair labor practice grievance or other action. “We're requesting ability to be involved in
a major change in workplace conditions,” the source says.
The demand outlines 10 initial questions on how
a shutdown would affect agency personnel, including how EPA will determine what employees remain on the job, e.g. whether
they will ask for volunteers, furlough workers based on seniority or rely on another system; whether employees would have
to return files or equipment they keep at home; and whether employees who work from home would be responsible for opening
any mail they receive or returning calls to a government cell phone.
OMB this week told senior agency officials to begin
preparing for a government shutdown, according to a memo obtained by the Washington Post . The memo encouraged agency officials
to “communicate with senior managers” on shutdown planning “to ensure that managers are prepared to implement
your shutdown plans should the need arise.”
But unions say they have been left out of those
conversations, at least at EPA. “There's been no contact from EPA,” the union source says.
Meanwhile, AFGE March 30 sued OMB in U.S District
Court for the District of Columbia charging that the budget office has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
request from the union for shutdown contingency plans from federal agencies. The union filed its FOIA request March 2, asking
for expedited consideration of its request because of the potential for a shutdown.
According to the complaint, AFGE is asking OMB
for “any and all contingency plans submitted to the Office by Federal Executive Branch agencies, including any records
containing a description or list of employees or positions that would be required to work without pay in the event of a shutdown.”
The union further says, “AFGE needs the requested
records to advise and represent its bargaining unit members in, for example, collective bargaining both before and after any
eventual shutdown,” and points out that “nearly all” executive agencies have failed or refused to release
the shutdown plans.
Union Sues OMB to Get Shutdown Plan
The nation’s largest federal employee union
sued the Obama administration to get information about how its members at various agencies will be treated if there’s
a government shutdown.
The American Federation of Government Employees
union filed its suit March 30 against the White House Office of Management and Budget, four weeks after filing a Freedom of
Information Act request that went unanswered. It sought expedited copies of any shutdown contingency plans submitted to OMB
by federal agencies, including any records describing or listing employees or positions that would be required to work without
pay during a shutdown.
A stopgap measure funding the federal government
expires on Friday, and a partial government shutdown is expected if Congress fails to extend the measure or pass legislation
funding the government through the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.
Federal agencies can require certain employees
to work during a shutdown by labeling them as essential, and the union’s president, John Gage, said he’s concerned
these workers might not be paid for their time. Mr. Gage, who delivered a speech at the National Press Club in Washington
Tuesday, said he also needs to know how federal programs and services would be affected.
“It’s not something that should be
cavalierly handled. If a shutdown goes on, there will be federal employees who are going to be hurt financially,” he
said. “They should know before the eve of a shutdown what is happening and it should be done orderly and not in
a last-minute rush.”
An OMB official said the administration has taken
“unprecedented steps” to improve government transparency and accountability, and shutdown planning “is no
“We still believe that there is an opportunity
to avoid a costly government shutdown,” the official said, adding that “Plans for shutdown operations, which are
governed by the law, remain in development and are pre-decisional at this time.”
Mr. Gage said he also told Attorney General
Eric Holder in a March 28 letter that requiring federal employees to work without getting paid violates the Thirteenth Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution. He likewise sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, asking how long
“essential employees” can be required to work during a shutdown without being paid.
AFGE represents 600,000 federal and Washington,
D.C., workers at more than 70 agencies.
As Shutdown Looms, Agencies Brace for Its
Zoo would close, but the lions and tigers would get fed; Yellowstone and other national parks would shut down. The Internal
Revenue Service could stop issuing refund checks. Customs and Border Patrol agents training officials in Afghanistan might
have to come home. And thousands of government-issued BlackBerrys would go silent.
This is what a government shutdown might
With budget talks between Republicans and
Democrats far from resolution, official Washington braced on Tuesday for a replay of the Great Government Shutdowns of 1995
and 1996. For weeks, the Obama administration has been quietly examining the experience of the mid-1990s as a kind of shutdown
survival guide. Now those preparations have kicked into high gear.
The White House Office of Management and
Budget directed the heads of federal agencies on late Monday to share contingency plans with senior managers. On Capitol Hill,
the chairman of the Committee on House Administration warned “nonessential employees” on Tuesday to turn off their
BlackBerrys during a shutdown, or risk punishment for working while on furlough.
And at the Smithsonian Institution, employees
were preparing for a lot of disappointed tourists. The 1995 and 1996 shutdowns occurred in the dead of winter. Now it is spring
break; Linda St. Thomas, a spokeswoman, said the Smithsonian has sold 23,000 advance tickets for cafeteria meals and Imax
movies in April. Her staff was prepared to print “Closed Due to Government Shutdown” signs to tape to windows
in their museums.
“I got a call yesterday from a woman
in Cincinnati; she was bringing a big family, two cars, they were going to drive in from Ohio on Friday,” Ms. St. Thomas
said. “She wanted to know, what should she do? I said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
In any shutdown, the government does not
completely cease functioning, of course. Activities that are essential to national security, like military operations, can
continue. Air traffic control and other public safety functions are exempt from shutdowns. Federal prisons still operate;
law enforcement and criminal investigations can continue. Employees deemed essential to the functioning of government can
come to work. (In ego-driven Washington, a federal shutdown forces high-powered workers to confront their self-worth. Many
federal officials insisted on showing up in previous shutdowns, apparently unable to come to grips with idea they might not
be considered vital.)
During the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, cleanup
work on toxic waste sites was halted because contractors could not be paid and Environmental Protection Agency officials could
not monitor cleanup work. Work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended, and the government took a break from going
after deadbeat dads. Tens of thousands of passport and visa applications went unprocessed.
Yet in preparation for a possible shutdown
of 2011, officials have discovered that the lessons of more than a decade ago are not always relevant. An entire federal agency,
the Department of Homeland Security, has come into existence since then. Most of its employees would continue working at airports,
borders and seaports as usual, but many managers at headquarters would be temporarily out of work, a federal official said.
The government is much more heavily involved
in the mortgage lending market today than in the mid-1990s, and officials are deeply concerned about the economic fallout
should the Federal Housing Administration stop guaranteeing loans. Yet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, though government-owned,
would continue to operate.
Officials are also concerned about unemployment
benefits, paid jointly by the federal government and the states. In 1995, with the jobless rate at 5.6 percent, states were
able to draw on their trust funds to pay the federal portion. Today, many state funds are borrowing from the federal government.
And the growth of the Internet is another
big change in the bureaucratic landscape, creating entirely new questions for policy makers to contend with.
“We realized that the world was a
very different place in 1995 than now,” said one official familiar with the planning, who insisted on anonymity to speak
candidly about it. “In 1995, you really didn’t have the question of: Are Web sites essential? Is e-mail essential?
What do you do about people’s BlackBerrys? Is a Twitter feed an essential way of communicating? None of that existed.
These are all legal questions to figure out.”
Much would depend on how long a shutdown
lasts. (The longest previous episode ran three weeks.) At the federal courts, officials said they could continue operations
for 10 days to two weeks, using money from fees paid by people who have filed civil suits. “After that, who knows?”
said Karen E. Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
One key question is whether federal employees
— the government work force includes more than 1.9 million civilian workers — would be compensated in the event
of a shutdown. Many of those workers are deemed nonessential, but federal officials have not provided an estimate of the number.
John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel
Management, posted information on the agency’s Web site on Tuesday night saying that “federal agencies do not
have the authority to pay their employees during a shutdown.” Congress, he said, would decide whether to pay employees
who are furloughed. In the past, Congress often provided such pay, but the political climate now is different, and lawmakers
might be less willing to do so.
Members of Congress and White House officials
have broad discretion about whether to declare their employees essential. In previous shutdowns, most worked with skeleton
The chairman of the Committee on House Administration,
Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California, sent detailed guidance on Tuesday to all House members and offices on
what they could and could not do during a government shutdown.
A sample letter he provided warned: “Working
in any way during a period of furlough, even as a volunteer, is grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination
of employment. To avoid violating this prohibition, we strongly recommend that you turn your BlackBerries off for the duration
of the furlough.”
Around Washington on Tuesday, there was
a sense of nervous anticipation — and some confusion. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said a shutdown would have
a “very material” impact on his department, but he declined to elaborate. Administration officials said the Treasury
would continue one indispensable role: holding regular auctions of federal debt, so the government could borrow more money
from the public.
The Office of Management and Budget is not
making its contingency plans public, a source of irritation to the American Federation of Government Employees, the union
that represents more than 600,000 federal workers. Its president, John Gage, said Tuesday that the union has sued the Obama
administration under the Freedom of Information Act to compel the plans’ release.
“I think everybody needs to get a
better idea of what a shutdown means — who is essential and who is not,” Mr. Gage said.
Federal workers fed up with lack of information
about possible shutdown
Like a marriage showing the strain of money troubles,
the relationship between federal employees and the Obama administration is fraying as the possibility of a government shutdown
Generally, that relationship has been a good one,
despite the two-year pay federal pay freeze pushed by President Obama. But the current source of friction is less about money
than about information.
With a shutdown looming, Uncle Sam had acted, at
least until late Tuesday, like he could see, hear and say no evil when it came to telling the public — and federal employees
in particular — what closing the government would mean for them.
“It’s getting our goat a little bit,”
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), said at a morning news conference.
Then at about 3 p.m., administration officials,
including Jeff Zients, the government’s chief performance officer and a deputy director of the Office of Management
and Budget, and John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, held a conference call with union leaders to provide
Some questions were answered, but certainly not
all. Perhaps many others could have been, had this process started earlier.
Zients and Berry, under pressure from labor leaders,
told them that agencies will notify workers on Wednesday about the possibility of a shutdown and direct them to questions
and answers posted at OPM.gov. On Thursday and Friday, employees will be told whether they are essential — or “excepted
from the furlough,” as the OPM puts it — and therefore would work during a shutdown. Non-essential workers who
show up Monday would have four hours to close their operations before going home.
The OPM site includes much more information. The
Q-and-A posted Tuesday evening does not tell employees whether they are essential, because that information will come from
agency heads. But according to the OPM, excepted employees are those “performing work that, by law, may continue to
be performed during a lapse in appropriations.”
Those who do work will be paid, but only after
Congress and the president approve a new funding measure. For the employees who do not work, the OPM cannot say if they are
out of luck or not:
Q: Will employees who are furloughed get paid?
A: Congress will determine whether “non-excepted”
employees receive pay for the furlough period.
Health insurance benefits will continue.
The federal officials provided no estimate of the
number of workers who might be furloughed, but Randy Erwin, legislative director of the National Federation of Federal Employees
(NFFE), estimated that “90 percent or more of the 110,000 federal employees we represent will be subject to furloughs.”
Because so many questions remain, the AFGE says
it will press for answers through a lawsuit it filed in federal district court last week in an attempt to force the administration
to come forth with basic information it should have provided before now.
Despite all the public debate, the charges flung
back and forth daily between Republicans and Democrats, and “the gravity and notoriety of this matter, nearly all Federal
Executive Branch agencies have failed or refused to release their contingency plans to either the public or to federal employee
unions such as AFGE,” the suit says.
The union wants agency contingency plans and “a
description or list of employees or positions that would be required to work without pay in the event of a shutdown.”
The AFGE filed a Freedom of Information Act request
March 2 with the OMB seeking that information, then filed suit March 30 when it was not provided. The FOIA letter also requested
information on the operations that would continue during a shutdown and the employees needed to keep them going.
The information employees need is important not
just for their sake, but for the public’s as well. What offices would be open, what services would continue and what
operations would carry on is information that everyone, not just federal workers, needs to know.
“It’s been very, very frustrating,”
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told reporters on Monday. Added NFFE President William
R. Dougan: “I think it’s disrespectful to hold these folks in limbo until the last minute and expect them to be
at the beck and call of these agencies.”
Elaine Mitchell is one of those folks. She is a
Social Security employee and AFGE official in Falls Church who said she was considered nonessential during the shutdown of
1995 but essential during the shutdown of 1996. She was paid both times.
Mitchell doesn’t know what officials would
call her this year or if she would be paid during a shutdown. She does know she is tired of politicians “playing with
She can’t afford to go without pay, she said:
“I’m a struggling middle-class worker. . . . I live paycheck to paycheck.”
Bureau of Prisons director faces DUI, related charges
The soon-to-be retired director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons was arrested and charged with DUI and related counts in
late February after an Anne Arundel County police officer spotted him driving erratically near his home in Annapolis, according
to a police report.
Harley Lappin, 55, was pulled over Feb. 26 after an Anne Arundel police officer watched him nearly swerve into a police
speed-enforcement trailer on Arundel on the Bay Road and a parked car on Headwater Road, according to a police report. Lappin’s
eyes were bloodshot, his speech was slurred and his breath smelled of alcohol, according to the report. In field sobriety
tests, he was unable to walk a straight line taking heel-to-toe steps, and he could not maintain his balance standing on one
foot, the report said.
The incident was first reported by Main Justice.
Late last week, Lappin announced that he would retire as director of the Bureau of Prisons effective May 7. Traci Billingsley,
a bureau spokeswoman, said Lappin had made the retirement decision “some months ago, long before the incident.”
She said that Lappin informed his supervisors about the incident immediately after it happened and that he sent a message
to his staff members Tuesday apologizing for “failing to lead by example.”
In a news release about Lappin’s retirement, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. praised the director’s efforts
to “address prison overcrowding and expand prisoner development and rehabilitation programs.” Holder made no mention
of the drunken-driving charges.
In a statement after news of the charges broke, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “While he shares
Director Lappin’s regret for the incident that occurred, the Attorney General believes the Director has served with
great integrity and professionalism over a long career at the Bureau of Prisons.”
Lappin is scheduled to appear in court June 16, court records show.
Government revoking pay raises, top career officials claim
By Kellie Lunney
This story has been updated.
Top career officials are being asked to give up their pay raises in a move
some suspect is part of President Obama's two-year governmentwide pay freeze.
"We've heard from members that it's happening," said Bill Bransford, general
counsel at the Senior Executives Association. "We have not officially heard from anyone and don't know the specific facts."
Federal News Radio reported Friday morning that as of Sunday, the government
is revoking the December 2010 performance-based pay raises of hundreds of senior executives. The story said the Energy Department
had informed its senior executives of the move at the direction of the Office of Personnel Management. Other agencies are
expected to do the same, the report added.
But an Energy official said the department was "still reviewing whether it
will ask senior executives to give back money received as part of the pay increase." The official said OPM directed Energy
on March 18 to take action to "roll back the pay adjustments."
A senior administration official said OPM made the request because the law
generally prohibits more than one pay raise in any 12-month period for senior executives. The targeted executives' salaries
increased in January 2010 and then again in December. "It was not a result of the pay freeze," the official said, referring
to OPM's request, adding that there was no formal memo from OPM but rather "discussions and deliberations over the phone."
OPM did not respond to messages from Government Executive asking for
"I don't know if I can remember anything happening like this ever before,"
Bransford said. "It seems unusual."
Using the same argument regarding the law on pay changes to senior executives'
salaries, he questioned the legality of the move to take back the pay raises, in particular those given in December 2010,
before the pay freeze officially took effect in January. Under Title 5
of the Code of Federal Regulations, with a few exceptions, agencies can
adjust (increase or decrease) a senior executive's basic pay only once during a 12-month period.
There are other restrictions on decreasing senior-level pay. Agencies can
reduce a senior executive's rate of basic pay "by not more than 10 percent for performance or disciplinary reasons," subject
to other restrictions included in the code. An agency can reduce the basic pay without a senior executive's consent only as
a result of poor performance or misconduct, and must provide written notice of such a move at least 15 days before the reduction
takes effect. Senior executives can choose to obtain a lawyer to dispute the matter, and request specific reasons for the
pay reduction and reconsideration by the head of the agency. SESers cannot formally appeal the decision, however.
There are approximately 7,000 SES members across government who earn between $119,554 and $179,700
Shutdown Madness Coming To A Head
no cosmetic fixes left, it will require painful compromises on either side to avoid government shutdown.
The 2011 budget stalemate is about to enter a new and politically perilous stage. While a shutdown of some duration isn't
certain, time is running out, positions are hardening and the recent bipartisan willingness to indulge in face-saving gestures
is entirely gone.
A week of negotiations involving the White House, Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid have failed to narrow differences in spending cuts and policy differences. House Republicans still stand by $51
billion in cuts from the 2010 budget and demand that serve as the beginning point for negotiations — meaning anything
less than it in terms of cuts or policy riders represents a GOP concession.
The White House and Senate Democrats
oppose using the full GOP continuing resolution (CR) as a benchmark because it can't pass the Senate and, even if it did,
would die under a veto that House Republicans couldn't override (they needed House Democratic votes, after all, to pass the
last three-week stop-gap bill).
It's hard to know, precisely, the magnitude of spending cuts coming from Democrats.
White House and Senate Democrats say they have offered up to $20 billion, while Republicans say all they've offered is about
$7 billion in cuts (It may be a difference in policy accounting or GOP low-balling the Democrats). In either case, House Republicans
consider both numbers insufficient.
The ill-will boiled to the surface on Friday, as House Republicans issued coordinated
statements seeking to portray Democrats as unwilling to cut spending and lacking a serious plan to resolve the impasse.
Democrats continue to downplay the severity of their budget mess," Boehner said in a statement, referring to the Democrats'
inability to pass a budget in the 111th Congress. "We weren’t sent here to negotiate with ourselves. Many questions
remain, starting with: when it comes to cutting spending and keeping the government running, where are Washington Democrats?
If they have a plan, what is it?"
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy amplified Boehner, alleging Democrats are spoiling
for a shutdown showdown.
"It’s irresponsible for Democrats on the Hill and in the White House to continue pushing
for the status quo of more spending while playing political games intended to shut down the government," McCarthy said in
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded, also in a statement, that Boehner is a hostage to Tea Party-backed
House Republicans who are unwilling to compromise.
“The House Republican leadership is back to agonizing over
whether to give in to right-wing demands that they abandon any compromise on their extreme cuts," Schumer said. "The Speaker
knows that when it comes to avoiding a shutdown, his problem is with the Tea Party, not Democrats. Instead of lashing out
at Democrats in a kneejerk way, we hope House Republicans will finally stand up to the Tea Party and resume the negotiations
that had seemed so full of promise.”
Senior House GOP aides sniffed that Schumer "is not directly involved in
the CR negotiations" and that all questions about the actual state of budget negotiations should be referred to Reid. It's
never a good sign when staff fights break out over who is or isn't in a room where negotiations are stalled or breaking down.
Reid did not issue a statement characterizing the talks.
Amidst all the posturing, pressure is building on Boehner
to press for policy riders passed during original consideration of the full continuing resolution but left out of the stop-gap
bills accepted by Senate Democrats and the White House. House Republicans know they won't be able to use these budget negotiations
to defund the 2010 health care law or block creation of new financial regulatory reform bureaucracies. But rank-and-file House
Republicans want some policy victories and are looking at comparatively easy ones to be included in the final package —
among them blocking movement of suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. for trial or tightening access to abortion
in the District of Columbia.
But Senate Democrats and the White House are reluctant to move on House GOP policy riders
and want to keep the eventual budget deal as "clean" (meaning devoid of policy riders) as possible.
If no deal is struck
by Thursday, a shutdown or another CR is the only way out. House Republicans will not consider a bill that resolves the 2011
budget on an expedited basis — meaning it will require being available for three days before House action. A short-term
measure could keep negotiations alive but no moves have been taken to write one and even if they were, House Republican say,
they would have to include some policy riders — adding another layer of uncertainty.
There is less than one week
to go and the differences on dollars and policy appear as pronounced as ever. And if both sides aren't moving a bill by April
Fool's day, well ... the voters will decide who the budget fools really are.
Clinton not interested in second term at State or presidential run
Secretary of State of Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday she is not interested in serving
a second term as secretary of state, nor as secretary of defense, nor does she plan to run for the presidency again.
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Clinton,
a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, was direct in ruling out all the positions.
Blitzer: If the president is reelected, do you want to serve a second term as secretary
Blitzer: Would you like to serve as secretary of defense?
Blitzer: Would you like to be vice president of the United States?
Blitzer: Would you like to be president of the United States?
Blitzer: Why not?
Clinton: Because I have the best job I could ever have. This is a moment in history where it is almost
hard to catch your breath. There are both the tragedies and disasters that we have seen from Haiti to Japan and there are
the extraordinary opportunities and challenges that we see right here in Egypt and in the rest of the region. So I want to
be part of helping to represent the United States at this critical moment in time, to do everything I can in support of the
president and our government and the people of our country to stand for our values and our ideals, to stand up for our security
- which has to remain first and foremost in my mind - and to advance America's interests. And there isn't anything that I
can imagine doing after this that would be as demanding, as challenging, or rewarding.
Blitzer: President of the United States?
Clinton: You know, I had a wonderful experience running and I am very proud of the support I had and
very grateful for the opportunity, but I'm going to be, you know, moving on.
Blitzer: I asked my viewers and followers on Twitter to send questions and a lot of them said,
"Ask her if she'll run in 2016 for the presidency." A lot of folks would like to you to do that.
Clinton: Well that's very kind, but I am doing what I want to do right now and I have no intention
or any idea even of running again. I'm going to do the best I can at this job for the next two years.
House GOP, White House ramp up talks on budget deal
Talks between the House Republicans and administration are accelerating as both sides push for
a deal in the next two weeks to avert a government shutdown.
The negotiations are under way on several levels. Conversations between Office of Management
and Budget Director Jacob Lew and House Appropriations Republican staff have begun. Democratic aides said those talks are
an offshoot of existing negotiations involving leadership staff from both chambers that helped produce a deal last week on
a three-week continuing resolution. Talks between House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and President Obama or a senior
designee are set to begin as soon as this week, a senior GOP source said.
The efforts come with the Senate likely to pass the three-week continuing resolution including
about $6 billion in spending cuts on Thursday, according to leadership aides. The increased pace reflects the belief at the
White House and among congressional eaders that a deal must be struck in March to give both chambers time to act on a negotiated
bill before the two-week Easter recess. If the three-week CR is passed by the Senate, as expected, Congress will have until
April 8 to reach a compromise.
The senior GOP source said the deal will be cut by Boehner and Obama, written by the House Appropriations
Republicans, and effectively presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to Senate Democrats, who would be expected to swallow
Democratic leadership aides say they are confident that Lew will not give House Republicans their preferred
level of cuts. Lew's "interests pretty much align with ours," said an aide, who insisted that a deal between the White House
and Boehner would not resemble last year's tax deal, which the White House cut with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
with limited Democratic input.
While Senate Democrats may grumble at being sidelined, Republicans argue that they have made themselves
irrelevant. And the chance to hand the ball to the administration may be privately welcomed by many Senate Democrats who have
been clamoring for a stepped-up White House role in talks and who are struggling to unite behind any clear stance on what
level of spending cuts they will accept.
House Republicans acknowledge that Tuesday's vote on the three-week CR with 54 Republicans in opposition,
gives House Democrats a larger role.
Republicans are optimistic about chances for agreement with Lew, who has worked with many House appropriators
and won public praise from key players such as Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
"Jack Lew and I go back a long way, so I really have high respect for him," Rogers said at a National
Journal event on Wednesday. "He is a professional. He understands what each party has to contend with. So I am very hopeful
we'll get it done."
A challenge will be finding agreement on an overall number for cuts. Republicans in both chambers are
committed to meeting something close to the overall number of about $60 billion in cuts included in the seven-month continuing
resolution the House passed last month, which the Senate rejected. Republican sources said Lew has indicated he will not agree
on a large number for cuts without clarity on the implications to federal programs. Lew wants the policy to drive the numbers,
the opposite of the GOP approach.
Asked on Wednesday if he has a number in mind, Rogers said he "was always told not to show your cards
until [you are ready] to lay them down."
Rogers noted that the level of cuts, their effect on specific programs, and policy riders such as stripping
funds from Planned Parenthood "are all part of the conversations we are having."
He added that House Republican leaders "will make the big decisions... and we will be a part of that
Rogers noted that the policy riders could also be included in the fiscal 2012 appropriations bills,
a signal that they may not have to be included in a final deal. Democrats have argued they are nonstarters.
While President Obama has urged no cuts to funding for education, infrastructure, and other programs
he believes will pay off in time, Rogers said that the pain must be shared across the discretionary budget, and that he expects
government programs within his purview to remain under scrutiny and on the chopping block until deficits can be brought under
Labor leaders demand answers on agency shutdown plans
Administration officials are keeping federal employees in the dark over furlough policies, leaving
workers unsure whether they would have to work during a shutdown and, if so, if they would be paid, members of the government's
council on labor-management relations said on Wednesday.
Agencies are required by the Office of Management and Budget to develop strategies for a government hiatus and include information such as the time it will take to stop operations
and the number of essential employees they plan to retain. For the most part, however, officials have not identified specific
personnel policies that would be in place during a shutdown.
"We're interested in which employees are going to continue to work," William Dougan, national
president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said during the meeting. "We've been stonewalled, and I'm wondering
what the deal is."
The personnel decisions have collective bargaining implications, Dougan said, "in terms of bargaining
on adverse impacts and procedures around furloughs."
National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley expressed concern about the information
gap between agency officials and labor. Managers are trying to make sure critical operations continue, but employees don't
know how they will be designated, she said, adding workers are wondering whether they should go out and find other jobs.
"Tell them something," she said. "The silence is deafening."
According to Jeffrey Zients, OMB deputy director of management and council co-chairman, agency plans
are not yet final, though it is coordinating with officials to ensure consistency. The process involves legal concerns not
subject to union input, and labor would not be involved until a shutdown occurred and plans were implemented, he said.
"We have every reason to believe this is not going to happen," Zients said. "If a shutdown becomes
imminent, we'll advise and clearly communicate at that point."
Officials said they also have yet to determine whether essential employees will be reimbursed for the
hours they are required to work during a shutdown, noting pay is not guaranteed at this point.
Also at the meeting, John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel
Management, announced that the Chief Human Capital Officers Council last week formed a new working group focused on
improving government's performance management system. He added the labor-management council could create a separate group
to work with CHCOs to improve employee accountability and reward high performers. The discussion will not include pay for
performance, he noted.
Union heads expressed concern that talks composed solely of agency managers could create conflicts
and suggested labor leaders also participate directly as members of the new group.
"I think it will be ships passing in the night," said John Gage, national president of the American
Federation of Government Employees. "I don't have a lot of confidence that our point of view is going to make it through there."
During a speech at the Interagency Resource Management Conference on Wednesday, Berry said he wants
to improve the government's personnel evaluation system by developing more specific performance standards and offering employees
more frequent feedback.
The council's next meeting will be held on May 18. Members agreed to cancel the April session to allow
more time to review agencies' baseline metrics for evaluating labor-management forums and bargaining pilot projects.
Reduced COLA Payments for Federal and Military Retirees in Your Future?
By Ralph Smith Tuesday, March 15, 2011
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How can Congress cut the federal deficit by reducing federal spending?
deficit commission came up with a number of recommendations which we have outlined in previous articles. And, while President
Obama indicated at the time the commission was formed that he would be standing with the members of the commission when their
findings were announced, his enthusiasm for the recommendations has been somewhere between tepid and non-existent. (See
Deficit Commission Recommends Freezing Federal Salaries, Changing Retirement Calculations and Commission Proposes "High-Three"
to "High-Five" for Retirement, Pay Freeze and Changes to FEHB for Federal Employees)
But that does not mean that the
recommendations have gone away or that other options are not going to be considered. Some of these options will impact the
federal workforce and, quite possibly, the future retirement income of federal employees and other Americans as well.
is one example of a proposal that has been written by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
One section of this
report is entitled: "Base Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Federal Civilian and Military Pensions and Veterans’ Benefits
on an Alternative Measure of Inflation."
It will not surprise many readers to learn that the gist of this proposal
is how to reduce the COLA adjustments and require less future spending increases by the federal government.
"In 2010, the federal government paid $69 billion in pension benefits to 2.5 million civilian retirees
and their survivors, as well as $51 billion to 2.2 million military retirees and their survivors...Pensions paid under
the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) are subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) that provide complete
protection against increases in the CPI-W. Pensions paid under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) are fully
protected only when that increase is less than 2 percent per year."
So, obviously, the federal government is spending
a great deal of money each year on retirement payments in various forms. How can this amount of spending be reduced?
to Save Money? Change The Formula
One way is to change the formula for paying future cost of living increases. The
chained CPU (CPI-U) would, on average, grow 0.25 percent less than the existing formula for paying inflation increases.
less does not sound like a lot of money and, as a practical matter, it may not be a lot for many people. It would save the
government a few billion dollars though. Changing how the COLA is calculated would decrease mandatory government outlays
by about $6 billion between 2012 and 2016 and by $24 billion from 2012 through 2021.
What does this mean in practical
terms for those that receive these benefits? Here are the results:
On average, a federal employee retiring under the
CSRS system would receive about $3,900 less over 10 years; a FERS annuitant would receive about $1,000 less. The average military
retiree would receive roughly $3,000 less over 10 years, veterans’ disability compensation would be about $1,500 less,
and veterans’ pensions would be about $1,200 less.
The Long-Term Impact
There are disadvantages to the
proposal, of course. We have previously explained how the CPI-E would provide a larger benefit to federal employee retirees
by counting more heavily the expenses actually borne by those who are retired and putting less emphasis on expenses not as
likely to impact an older person or couple. The Congressional Budget Office is aware of this other option and that this other
option would increase future government spending if it were to be enacted. (See Your 2010 COLA: Why Your Costs May Be Up
But Your Income Goes Down)
Here is the downside to using the CPI-U as explained by the CBO:
"[T]he benefits received by retirees may decline over time in real terms under current law, and using
the chained CPI-U would accentuate that decline. CSRS annuitants would be particularly affected because they are most dependent
on their pensions: CSRS annuitants typically receive larger pensions than FERS annuitants do, but CSRS annuitants did not
receive the matching contributions to their Thrift Savings Plan accounts for which FERS annuitants were eligible."
report is long. For those who care to read it, here it is.
There are other proposal contained within it that would
impact all Americans. With the spiraling federal debt, and the unwillingness of previous elected officials to be willing to
address the issue, resolving the debt problem is undoubtedly going to impact all of us in some way.
There is no certainty
that this proposal to reduce future COLA payments will be enacted. But, keep in mind, it is likely that changes will be
made to federal spending sooner or later and some of these spending initiatives are very likely to impact the federal workforce
as well as those who do not work for the government sector.
With the under-employment rate at almost 19% for the American
workforce, a gradual acceptance of the high unemployment more common in European countries than in the United States, and
the growing dependence on government by many Americans that requires more government spending, it is unlikely that changes
can be avoided in the federal budget. The tough political questions will be deciding where the cuts will be made, who will
be impacted by the cuts, or whether those in leadership positions will continue to ignore the problem while it continues to
Battle royal over federal worker pay
By Joe Davidson
All that Wednesday's House hearing on federal pay needed to be complete was
an announcer with a booming voice asking the packed room, "Are you ready to rumble?"
Instead, Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), chairman of the federal workforce subcommittee,
called the session to order with the familiar bang of the gavel.
But it didn't take long for things to get hot.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, perhaps gearing up for a run at the Senate seat now occupied
by fellow Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch, vigorously challenged Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on savings
expected to be generated by the two-year federal pay freeze - a freeze Republicans might seek to strengthen by including certain
increases that are now exempt.
Dispensing with the polite approach to witnesses he displayed as a freshman
last year, Chaffetz sharply insisted the freeze would not save money because employees can still get bonuses, awards and "step"
increases based largely on longevity. Later, James Sherk, a policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, snidely
called the step increases "social promotion for adults."
Like a tag team in a pro-wrestling match, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took
over Chaffetz's line of pointed questions and assertions after a break for a vote on the House floor.
"The truth is, there will be pay increases throughout this [freeze] process,"
said Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Berry pointed out that awards amount to less than 2 percent of payroll and
that even without including awards and step increases, the freeze will save $28 billion over five years.
"The pay freeze for two years is a real sacrifice," Berry said.
But not enough for Republicans.
"I think we have to correct the pay freeze issue," Ross said after the hearing.
He expects legislation will be introduced to include the step or "within grade"
increases in the freeze. Another option that he said would be considered is basing retirement income on the top five years
of federal pay instead of the top three.
To the consternation of Democrats, Ross, showing no hesitancy in his rookie
season on Capitol Hill, had posters placed behind the dais that set the sometimes-contentious tone of the hearing. One said
federal employment had increased by 157,000 between December 2008 and December 2010 while private sector jobs dropped by 8.8
"A high school farce . . . the facts be damned," was Rep. Gerald E. Connolly's
(D-Va.) characterization of the hearing during a break in the action.
Berry noted that the federal workforce, as a percentage of the nation's population,
is "virtually as small today as it has been in the modern era. In 1953, there was one federal worker for every 78 residents,"
Berry said. "In 2009, it was one for every 147."
Although the pay freeze captured the conversation during the first part of
the hearing, that was not advertised as its primary focus.
The question that the hearing was called to consider: "Are federal workers
Berry and Democrats defended federal pay, just as the Republicans did not.
Using data that Democrats certainly did not accept, Ross said federal employee
compensation is "nearly four times more than the average private sector worker."
Berry's rebuttal: "Raw comparisons of average pay between federal and private
sector employees mask important differences in the skill levels, complexity of work, scope of responsibility, size of organization,
location, experience level and special requirements, as well as exposure to personal danger."
"Federal cooks may seem overpaid," Berry added, but not when they "supervise
inmates in a clearly dangerous environment." A third of federal cooks work in prisons, he said.
Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
didn't care for Berry's put-down of studies that overlook differences in federal and private sector workers. Biggs said his
study, done with Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation, did control for various factors.
"When salaries, benefits and job security are properly valued, the total federal
compensation package is worth upwards of 39 percent more than is paid to similar private sector workers," he said.
Job security is a peculiar thing to throw in that mix. Employers benefit as
much as workers from a stable workforce, one that includes experienced staffers who know the organization's culture and possess
Biggs dumped on government figures indicating that federal jobs pay about
24 percent less, on average, than those in the private sector.
But Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union,
defended the government's method while taking a potshot at Biggs and his confederates.
"The witnesses who will claim today that federal employees are overpaid have
clear ideological views that I believe should raise serious questions about the reliability of their findings," Kelley said
in her statement.
AEI and Heritage, she said, "are putting forth self-serving, self-created
data, while we are referring to data from an independent, nonpartisan, credible source."
Max Stier, president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, said
during his testimony that the real question isn't whether federal employees are under- or overpaid but how the government
can move to a more flexible and market-sensitive system.
"At the end of the day, the federal pay system should allow the federal government
to attract, motivate and retain highly qualified workers to carry out the many missions of the federal government," Stier
said. "And it should do it as cost-effectively as possible."
Everyone agrees with that. But agreement on what that system looks like is
hard to reach.
Pay is no guarantee for furloughed employees
If Congress and the Obama administration fail to reach an agreement on the
continuing resolution by March 4 and the government shuts down, then federal employees who are furloughed might not be compensated
for the loss in pay.
The last time the government shut down in 1995 and 1996, for 27 days at an
overall cost of $1.4 billion, furloughed federal employees were paid retroactively for the time they were off the job. But
it's up to Congress to decide whether to reimburse employees for the time lost, and lawmakers might not be disposed to do
so during the current fiscal climate.
"They can always decide they are not going to do it," said John Palguta, vice
president of policy at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, and a federal employee at the Merit Systems Protection
Board during the mid-1990s shutdown. Lawmakers still are on the federal payroll during a shutdown; other employees not subject
to furlough include the president, presidential appointees, certain legislative branch staff and "essential" federal workers.
Most essential employees perform jobs in defense, health care or other areas of national security and/or emergency-related
fields, and while they are paid, their paychecks could be delayed during a hiatus.
"Overall, nothing good happens to the [federal] employee during a shutdown
unless you are deemed essential," Palguta said. "Shutdowns are a bad way to run government, obviously." The decision to pay
employees retroactively also affects their Thrift Savings Plan accounts. If workers are compensated for the loss in pay, then
their designated contribution and the matching amount from the government goes through as if the furlough didn't happen, according
to Tom Trabucco, director of external affairs for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. "When the hiatus was over
and funds began flowing again, amounts which each employee had elected to defer into the TSP simply flowed from their pay
into their accounts based on their standing contribution elections," he said, referring to the 1995 shutdown. But if lawmakers
choose not to reimburse feds, then TSP accounts will take a hit for that period of time. The board itself remains open for
business in the event of a furlough, since it is not funded through federal appropriations. For furloughed employees who live
paycheck to paycheck, there is little recourse, Palguta said. "There is nothing officially that the government can provide,"
he noted. Depending on how long the furlough lasted, some employees would be able to apply for unemployment compensation,
and there are a few nonprofits groups that could provide assistance, such as the Federal Employee Education and Assistance
Fund, a charity that is part of the Combined Federal Campaign.
Agencies are required through Office of Management and Budget
Circular A-11 to develop plans for a government hiatus, and include information such as the time
it will take to complete the shutdown and the number of essential employees they plan to retain. OMB, the Justice Department
and the Office of Personnel Management are supposed to provide agencies with guidance; agencies in turn must inform employees
of an impending shutdown and their specific status in advance. OMB and OPM have been reluctant to discuss publicly the possibility
of a shutdown and furloughs, but Palguta said he believes there is planning happening behind the scenes. "I can tell you at
the agency level that the chief human capital officers are at least dusting off the playbook," he said. "You don't wait until
you get the word."
In fact, Social Security Administrator Michael Astrue has acknowledged his agency
is preparing for a potential shutdown. Defining who is essential and who isn't often becomes the central question for agencies
-- and the one that most affects who receives a paycheck.
During a December 1995 review of the previous month's government shutdown, then-Rep.
Stephen Horn, R-Calif., said a lack of coordination among agencies created confusion and resulted in a patchwork of operations:
"Agencies were left to their own devices, some making decisions to keep employees working if they were paid out of multiyear
or no year appropriations, some retaining only those employees involved in protecting life or property. Some departments shutting
down almost completely, some remaining fully staffed."
House GOP Working on CR to Avert Shutdown, Deflect Blame
A red light at the entrance to the plaza in front of the Capitol. The federal government will come to a stop
on March 4 if Congress doesn't work out a funding extension
House Republicans are drafting a two-week continuing resolution to keep the government operating after
the current CR expires on March 4 and will file the bill on Friday, National Journal has learned.
The measure will contain about $4 billion in spending cuts and will merge cuts approved last week by the House
and several taken from President Obama’s list of program terminations and savings. Three senior House GOP aides said
the strategy is designed to avert a government shutdown and limit the ability of Senate Democrats and the White House to portray
Republicans as unreasonable or inflexible.
"We will put together a bill that cuts spending about $4 billion for two weeks when the deficit is $1.5 trillion
this year," a source said. "And the question will be this: Will Senate Democrats cut any spending at all?"
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has already begun drafting the
CR, though a final determination on the precise amount of spending cuts and which programs will be targeted has not been made,
several House GOP sources said. Republicans plan to vote on the measure next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The CR would extend government financing for two weeks after Obama signed the bill and its cuts would be prorated
to reflect the $100 billion in cuts approved in last week’s CR. In other words, the $4 billion in savings would be roughly
equal to the cuts the CR called for if carried out for just two weeks.
House GOP leaders held a conference call with freshmen GOP members on Wednesday to lay out the strategy. More
than half of the 87-member class participated in a call with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Majority
Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and House Republican
Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. The call gave more detail to an outline of the strategy GOP
leaders gave the freshmen class before it left Washington for this week’s recess.
The GOP aides said the thrust of the trimmed-down CR is to avoid a government shutdown and make the GOP spending
cuts as hard as possible for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House to ignore or
criticize. "What we will end up saying is we have passed two bills to prevent a shutdown and then we will ask the Senate:
‘How many bills have you passed to prevent a shutdown?’ " an aide said.
Senate Democrats dismissed the idea that the House proposal represented any kind of concession.
"The Republicans’ so-called compromise is nothing more than the same extreme package the House already
handed the Senate, just with a different bow," said Jon Summers, Reid’s communications director. "This isn’t a
compromise; it’s a hardening of their original position. This bill would simply be a two-week version of the reckless
measure the House passed last weekend. It would impose the same spending levels in the short term as their initial proposal
does in the long term, and it isn’t going to fool anyone. Both proposals are non-starters in the Senate."
The GOP freshmen, according to senior House GOP aides, backed the approach, even though it amounts to a retreat
from the $61 billion in cuts from enacted fiscal 2010 spending levels (and $100 billion from Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget
proposal that the previous Congress ignored). The House approved the $100 billion in cuts after the freshmen rejected the
GOP-leadership-backed plan to cut $32 billion from fiscal 2010 spending levels.
According to several GOP sources, the freshmen and many senior conservatives are girding for an eventual retreat
from the bigger CR because they know GOP leaders are fearful of the political consequences of a government shutdown and want
to wage the spending-cut battle over many cycles—instead of betting all their chips on this first showdown with Reid
Boehner and Cantor have pleaded with the freshmen to take the long view of the budget war and not risk a political
backlash over the CR dispute. GOP leaders have instead argued to win as many spending cuts as they can during the CR debate
and follow up with more when Congress must raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling later this spring and find still more when
the fiscal 2012 appropriations bills are written.
This approach reflects Boehner’s deep-seated belief that the 1995 Gingrich-led Congress risked everything
in its shutdown confrontation with President Bill Clinton, and in the aftermath Republicans not only lacked the stomach to
fight for more spending cuts, they veered in the opposite direction and targeted federal spending to vulnerable districts
to protect the GOP majority.
"We have a totally different mind set and approach than 1995," said a senior House GOP source. "We don’t
want to shut the government down. But we do want to cut spending. And we will. And the CR will do that one way or the other."
Coleman inmate feared for life before he was slain, family says
Manuel Jimenez was less than six months from freedom when he was killed in the recreation yard of the nation's largest
Jimenez, 44, was serving time for a probation violation and had been counting the days until he was reunited with his wife
to renew their vows and remake their lives after his release from Coleman Federal Correctional Complex, about 50 miles northwest
"We were looking forward to a lot — a second chance, that is what he said," Jimenez's widow, Camille Day-Jimenez,
recently said from her Wyoming home.
Now, about two months after the attack, his grieving family remains in limbo while waiting for officials to say what happened
to the father of five who become the latest victim of violence at the roughly 7,000-inmate prison.
A week after Jimenez was slain, another inmate was killed in an unrelated attack: a fight with a fellow inmate.
Two others have been killed since 2005 at the prison, also plagued by recreation-yard brawls, guard misconduct and stabbings.
Prison officials wouldn't comment about ongoing homicide investigations or security measures. But they say every incident
is reviewed and changes are made to prevent violence.
Federal prisons packed
Criminal-justice experts say it's difficult to gauge whether Coleman's troubles are worse than in other federal prisons
because such comparable statistics aren't readily available.
Some speculate the violence is linked to rising prison populations. The section of the prison where Jimenez died was designed
to hold 960 inmates. It currently houses 1,572, said prison spokesman Gary Miller.
"However, this is not uncommon for penitentiaries across the [Bureau of Prisons] who, on average, are 50 percent over rated
capacity," he said.
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Edmund Ross said overpopulation, staff recruitment and retention are persistent problems at
the agency's 115 facilities.
But he wouldn't comment when asked whether those issues contributed to Coleman's violence. However, a union representative,
Jose Rojas, said staffing cuts have affected emergency response, sparking tensions inside Coleman.
Rojas, president of the Coleman chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, said only three out of seven
security towers were manned on the compound the night Jimenez was killed.
"That's unfortunate because they [towers] used to be our eyes and ears to alert guys on the ground more quickly to something
happening," Rojas said, a teacher and former correctional officer at the prison. "These guys are dangerous criminals, and
you can't watch them without sufficient staff."
Miller, the prison spokesman, acknowledged that some towers were not occupied but said that was part of a larger change
involving all federal prisons to reassign tower guards to other positions. Additional electric fences were installed as part
of that change.
Jimenez in Coleman
Jimenez ended up in Coleman after a lifetime of troubles his family traced to the guilt of having killed a woman in a traffic
crash when he drove drunk at 16 — his first offense.
In 2003, he was charged with a federal crime after he threw a rock and hit a tribal officer in the head at a Wyoming Indian
reservation where he lived.
He was sentenced to 71 months but violated his probation twice — for drinking and fighting — lengthening his
stay in the federal-prison system. The court ordered Jimenez to a halfway house for several months and later transferred him
to Coleman's high-security penitentiary in August.
A few days before he was killed, Jimenez told his wife in a phone call that guards broke up a fight after he was surrounded
by a group of inmates who threatened him.
On Dec. 18, Jimenez was attacked in the prison's recreation yard at about 6:45 p.m., officials said. He was pronounced
dead at 8:17 p.m. at a local hospital.
Jimenez's wife is convinced her husband was targeted because other prisoners knew he would be released soon.
"I knew as soon as I heard it wasn't a natural death," Camille Day-Jimenez said. "The last couple of weeks, [Jimenez would
say]: 'If I live, I will tell the story.' "
Manuel Jimenez's mother, Odilia Jimenez of Alice, Texas, blames the prison for her son's death, saying it neglected to
protect him. He was buried near her home, and she visits his grave every day the weather cooperates.
"It's so unreal, you know — you think they are supposed to be safe," Odilia said. "If nobody says anything, it's
going to continue."
Crunch Forces A New Approach To Prisons
problems are forcing states and the federal government to rethink their approach to prisons. More than 2 million people are
incarcerated in the United States, and the cost is getting unbearable.
Even conservatives who describe themselves as tough on crime are starting to call for the release of some inmates. That's
in part because the numbers are speaking louder than ever.
States spend about $50 billion a year to house prisoners, and experts say incarceration is the fastest-growing expense
in state budgets, except for Medicaid.
Adam Gelb, who studies public safety at the Pew Center on the States, says it's time to change direction, and he has some
numbers to make his case.
"It costs 23 times as much to have somebody behind the walls as it does in the community, and I think that disparity is
what's becoming compelling," Gelb told a House appropriations panel last week.
Researchers have been collecting evidence for years about how to cut prison costs and reduce crime rates. James H. Burch
II at the U.S. Justice Department says politicians are finally starting to listen.
"The economic situation that we're in is certainly nothing to celebrate," Burch says in an interview. "But at the same
time, it has served as an effective catalyst to get people to look at the facts and look at the data and to be more reasonable
about the decisions that we're making."
Those decisions are reflected in President Obama's 2012 budget. It includes a plan to save $41 million by releasing well-behaved
Recently, Burch says, about a dozen states have reached out to the federal government for advice on how to overhaul their
Experts say the key is to evaluate each prisoner and the risk he poses to the community, just like an insurance company
would before writing a policy to cover someone's house or car.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) says nonviolent criminals — people locked up on drug charges or for writing bad checks —
may do much better out in the world than in a cell next to more dangerous inmates.
"You're finding people ... who have been sent into prison for a nonviolent crime who come out very, very violent," Wolf
says. "Have you been in the prisons? I mean, they are very, very violent. So you've actually been counterproductive in what
you're trying to do."
A Changing Atmosphere
Wolf is not the only prominent conservative to speak out about prisons. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and tax-reform
advocate Grover Norquist belong to a new group called Right on Crime. The organization wants to see low-level criminals released,
with more oversight in their local communities and more focus on programs cut down on repeat offenders.
Those are ideas that they say have worked and saved money in such places as Hawaii and Texas.
Pat Nolan has been working on those issues for 14 years. He says he's picking up a change in the atmosphere.
"All these conservatives now are saying: 'Gee, we need to rethink this huge spending on crime. We need to hold the bureaucracy
accountable for results. We need to reserve prison space for people who are truly dangerous,' " Nolan says. "It's beginning
to change the whole political equation on crime."
Current and former prosecutors say they aren't opposed to the idea of corrections reforms. "It just makes sense," says
Jim Brady, a former U.S. attorney in Michigan during the Carter administration.
"The cost of the current penal system has just gotten to be too expensive," said Brady, who now practices law at the Dykema
law firm. "They're looking at alternative methods in terms of rehabilitation, deterrence and the other factors that you consider
Then there's Jim Reams, the Rockingham County, N.H., attorney and president of the National District Attorneys Association.
Reams said that his state dived head first into corrections reforms about six months ago. But he's got a warning: Those
reforms haven't worked out quite as the activists promised.
"The problems in New Hampshire have to do with the fact that they didn't fund any system for the maintenance and the monitoring
of the people in the community," Reams said. "They just started dumping them out with the predictable results."
That means more crime, said Jim Pasco of the national legislative office of the Fraternal Order of Police.
"If something needs to be done, it needs to be done at the front end, before crimes are committed," Pasco said. "This is
a sociological, a societal problem."
Pasco said he's worried about proposals to cut police forces and release more criminals to save money.
"You put together reduced police strength on the street and more potentially violent criminals out there and it's a recipe
for disaster," he said.
Pasco said his members are fanning out on Capitol Hill this week, to share their concerns with lawmakers.
Chances up for federal shutdown
The chances of a government shutdown are on the rise.
With less than three weeks to strike a deal before government funding for the year is scheduled to expire, Republicans
and Democrats on Capitol Hill are moving in opposite directions.
Lawmakers from both parties stress they want to avoid a rerun of the stalemate that led to a shutdown in late 1995 and
early 1996. But the rhetoric on spending has escalated, and Democratic and GOP officials are already prepping for the blame
Positions have hardened after a revolt last week by House conservatives, who forced GOP leaders to nearly double their
proposed spending cuts for 2011.
If the cuts pass the House, Senate Democrats say they are dead on arrival in the upper chamber.
“I think the direction of last week is the wrong direction and puts us closer on the path to a shutdown,”
said William Hoagland, a former senior aide to ex-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
Hoagland, who also served as staff director under former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), hopes
that Senate deliberations will defuse a potential crisis.
“That’s why we have a Senate and a process we’ll go through, and cooler minds will prevail at some point
and end up with a solution that will not necessitate a shutdown,” he said.
Government funding is due to run out on March 4, giving Democratic and GOP leaders little time to work out a compromise.
Scott Lilly, who formerly served as the Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, said a government
shutdown looks “more likely.”
“Given the date now, there’s no question we’ll need a short-term [continuing resolution (CR)],”
he said. “That’s the move that I think will be very difficult and raises the prospect of a shutdown.”
House Republicans are leaving open the possibility of a CR, which would serve as a stopgap measure until a bipartisan deal
is struck. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, said Tuesday that Republicans would approve
a short-term funding measure to provide more time for budget talks if there is an impasse.
But some on the right oppose passing a CR because it keeps spending at current levels.
For House GOP leaders, sending a CR to President Obama’s desk would require even steeper cuts to make up for the
short-term extension if they stick with their campaign pledge to cut $100 billion “in the first year alone.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told The Hill that Republican leaders should stare Obama down.
“If [Republican] members of the House are sending signals that we are afraid of the president shutting down the government,
then the president will get everything he’s willing to fight for,” he said.
Democrats say they are open to cuts to current spending levels, though some believe they will repeatedly reject the House
GOP’s plan and seek to wait out Republicans by calling for a series of CRs.
During a teleconference last week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “Time is wasting while House Republicans argue
among themselves about how extreme a proposal to send to the Senate. We are willing to meet the Republicans in the middle
on spending, but they keep lurching to the right.
“And this infighting is causing delays that will take these negotiations right up to the deadline and risk a government
shutdown. And that seems to be exactly what many Republicans want.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fired back at Schumer, saying the only ones talking about a shutdown are
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday said, “Any time that we propose a spending cut, it seems that Chuck
Schumer, Dick Durbin, Harry Reid and others scream, ‘Shutdown.’”
Boehner and McConnell have declined to rule out the possibility of a government shutdown in recent television interviews.
Doing so would hurt the GOP’s leverage with the White House. Both have emphasized their intent is to reduce spending,
not shutter the government.
Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, led a budget seminar for nearly
40 House freshmen before the start of the new Congress.
She believes freshman conservatives are itching to make a dramatic statement by shutting down the government.
“It was clear there was a group of new members who in my mind were more concerned with making statements than
working with their own leadership to solve the nation’s problems,” said Bilmes. “Nothing I’ve seen
in the last week changes my mind.
“There are certainly some elements within the Tea Party group that are looking to make a dramatic statement.”
The House is moving forward with its 2011 spending plan this week, though GOP congressional leaders are considering
postponing a showdown with Democrats for at least several weeks, according to aides.
That way, the stare-down with the White House would coincide with the debate on increasing the nation’s debt limit.
If embraced, this strategy would give Republican leaders another bargaining chip in the high-stakes negotiation over the debt
limit, maximizing their political leverage, some GOP sources say.
However, this would necessitate the passing of at least one CR.
“I’ve heard that idea,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee. “I
don’t know how this is going to play out. I’m going to defer to the leadership on strategy.”
A senior Senate Republican aide stressed that GOP leaders are mulling separate battles on the CR to fund government for
the rest of 2011 and legislation to increase the debt limit.
“Also being discussed is using each as an opportunity of its own,” said the GOP aide. “Senate Republicans
want to cut spending any way they can.”
McConnell said he and his Republican colleagues will unify around what emerges from the House. It’s not clear
whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would allow a vote on the House Republican proposal.
The House plan is expected to attempt to defund the Obama administration’s implementation of healthcare reform,
a non-starter in the Democratic-led Senate that could trigger a veto threat from the White House.
Murder Suspect Dead, Corrections
Officer Killed in Line of Duty
Sources tell News 13 murder suspect Wade Williams is dead.
authorities began searching for murder suspect Wade Williams in Holmes County once again. Our newspaper partners at the Jackson County Floridan say that the Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts tells them
Williams came in contact with a homeowner and fired 8 shots at them but missed. This happened in the Gritney area on Pheil
Lane off of Highway 179.
Authorities quickly deployed search units including
K9, helicopters and officers on the ground following the incident. Little details are known at this time.
What we do know is that several rounds of gun
fire were exchanged between Williams and officers. And during that incident, the Florida Department of
Corrections says one of their K9 officers was shot. Our radio partners at WZEP report that the officer, Greg Malloy,
has died from his injuries. Malloy worked at the Holmes County Correctional Institution
Williams was wanted for the murders of his mother
and father, Bruce and Sharon Williams. The Cottondale couple was found dead in their home last Wednesday afternoon.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is
USP Atwater: Officers say closing towers risks safety
Prison leaders say technology in place to aid surveillance.
By MIKE NORTH
ATWATER -- A controversial decision by U.S. Penitentiary Atwater's warden to shut down six of seven security
towers has raised safety concerns among some correctional officers at the high-security prison.
Prison officials say their decisions haven't compromised officer safety. But representatives from the American
Federation of Government Employees, which represents the correctional officers' union, charge that Warden Hector Rios Jr.
misused his authority in what the union calls a cost-saving decision that could cost lives.
The union was notified Dec. 8 the towers would be taken offline. They were deactivated Jan. 15. Citing security
reasons, prison officials declined comment about which towers remain operational.
Regardless, the issue has apparently created a rift between Rios and some correctional officers under his command. And
with the killing of correctional officer Jose Rivera two years ago still on the minds of many, the union's leaders
say their concerns thus far have fallen upon deaf ears.
Union opposes warden
Though taking the towers off- line might save money, AFGE Local 1242 Atwater Prison Union President and CEO Donald Martin
contends the price of someone being killed because of the allegedly compromised security would be higher than any cost savings.
Martin is a correctional officer at the prison.
Speaking as a union official on behalf of correctional officers, he said the six decommissioned towers mean an increased
chance of an escape. Without the towers, certain areas of the yard are only line-of-sight, which means more blind spots. "Obviously,
when you have a human watching the perimeter, you have an increased sense of anything that's out of the ordinary," he said.
Each tower contains lethal firearms and less-than-lethal weapons (such as beanbags and rubber rounds), which can provide
essential cover during disturbances, according to the union. That protection can be vital for the officers on the grounds
of the compound.
Unmanned guard towers also mean a greater chance of contraband being thrown or shot over the prison walls, said one correctional
officer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.
Cell phones and store-bought alcohol are consistently found in the area outside the walls, the officer added.
A truck regularly patrols outside the prison, now that the towers have been put offline, according to the union.
But vulnerabilities remain, and Martin says the warden has refused to add more officers to housing units.
Federal prison officials in Washington, D.C., on the other hand, said it's up to individual institutions to determine what
hours they want to man towers and if they want to man towers at all. "It's just like setting the hours or setting the security
of any other aspect of the institution," said Traci Billingsley, Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman in Washington.
Though towers may be taken offline, Billingsley said that doesn't necessarily mean there's less security. "With electronic
means changing all the time, a lot of institutions find that there are better ways to achieve that same type of security,"
she said. "There's a whole host of different security features that have come about over the years."
Security needs change over time throughout the corrections industry, Billingsley added. "The institution isn't going to
jeopardize security," she said. "They're going to ensure that the security is a top priority, and that it's not in any way
Correctional officers at USP Atwater disagreed with Billingsley, saying regardless of how officials perceive the facility's
safety, in a high-security prison, it's the Bureau of Prisons' policy to man all towers. By leaving the towers unmanned, they
feel the Bureau of Prisons is violating its own policy.
Electric fence expected to improve security
The Sun-Star contacted management at USP Atwater, seeking comment about the union's concerns.
Deb Lorance, acting executive assistant and public information officer for the prison, responded with an e-mail, stating
that on Dec. 7, the prison activated an electrified fence aimed at enhancing overall security and the safety of staff, inmates
and the community.
The fence is designed to produce a nonlethal jolt as a warning before it becomes lethal, according to Lorance. The new
technology adds to security, helps deter potential escapes and allows the agency to better manage staff.
Lorance said correctional posts from outer perimeter towers can be assigned to areas within the perimeter, such as housing
units and recreation yards.
But Martin said when the union proposed adding officers to housing units, the warden rejected the idea.
"He flat-out refused that," Martin, the union president, said. "They want to use those officers to fill in for officers
on vacation and officers who are out sick so they can save money on overtime costs."
Some correctional experts suggest that towers have outlived their usefulness, especially with new high-tech sensors and
other electronic surveillance equipment. Also, officers like tower duty because they don't have to do as much
during their shifts as they do on regular assignments. Shutting down tower duty gives the warden more people available to
deal directly with prisoners.
USP Atwater isn't using the new fence technology as a cost-saving measure, Lorance said. There are 15 other U.S. federal
penitentiaries using the security feature to improve safety.
However, the electrified fence doesn't satisfy union officials. "Just from a surveillance standpoint, you can't replace
a human being watching the perimeter," Martin said.
Martin also pointed out that an inmate at a maximum security prison in Colorado on Aug. 22 managed to make it past a similar
electric fence. The inmate, who was serving time for attempted murder, assault, kidnapping and burglary, was able to escape
by grounding himself and crawling underneath the lethal fence.
He surrendered three days later at a home in a nearby city, after holding a woman hostage for a few hours.
Despite technological improvements, USP Atwater, which houses many convicted murderers, hasn't been immune to acts of violence,
including stabbings, riots and homicide -- the same problems that plague nearly all high-security prisons in the United States.
Death of correctional officer
In 2008, Jose Rivera, a USP Atwater correctional officer, was killed when prison officials say two drunken inmates stabbed
him to death with an ice-pick-type weapon inside a housing unit.
The killing created an outcry for additional staffing and better equipment.
The two former USP Atwater inmates charged with murder are still awaiting trial.
After the homicide, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, testified that the warden at the time, Dennis Smith, ignored congressional
warnings about safety concerns at the penitentiary.
Despite failures of the former warden, Cardoza was satisfied with replacement Warden Rios' performance, he said during
his 2009 testimony.
Rios remains warden at USP Atwater. Observers say he's been proactive in reaching out to Atwater and other communities
and service organizations to improve relations. He's also been willing to bring in outsiders to talk about leadership
and other issues to his officers.
However, the organization representing the correctional officer's union has labeled Rios as "arrogant and
egotistical," according to a letter on the organization's website. The organization claims that Rios' brand of leadership
is dividing the work force and hurting morale.
"Sick leave usage is at an all-time high due to the working environment at USP Atwater, and the leadership does not appear
to concern themselves with addressing why that's the case," the letter states.
Leadership at the prison instead punishes the employees by charging them with AWOLs for legitimate usage of sick leave,
according to the letter.
Changes made after killing
Just days after Rivera was killed, Andy Krotik, a former Atwater councilman, helped form an organization to support correctional
Friends and Family of Correctional Officers was formed with a focus on objectives including: providing officers
with stab-proof vests, providing officers with pepper spray or something equivalent, allowing the use of batons
and increasing staffing levels.
Krotik met with Rios on Wednesday, along with two members of the staff of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater.
Krotik confirmed that the facility's perimeter towers are no longer staffed by correctional officers. He agreed with the
union that the officers who were taken from the towers should be reassigned to housing units, where it's common for one officer
to be alone with more than 100 inmates while armed with nothing more than a set of keys and panic button in case of an emergency,
However, it seems that those officers are being used to reduce overtime costs, Krotik noted.
When Krotik asked the warden about possibly staffing the housing units with more correctional officers, Rios told Krotik
he thinks the housing units are adequately staffed.
Despite sometimes opposing views on prison operations, Krotik said he has maintained open communications with Rios, who's
always been accessible to Friends and Family of Correctional Officers.
Union plans to take action
Upset by the actions taken by the warden, the union plans on filing an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the Federal Labor
Relations Authority, arguing that the union's collective bargaining rights were violated, according to a letter on the union's
The prison should have negotiated with the union, Martin said. "When it became apparent they didn't agree with our proposal,
that's when the warden arbitrarily decided to implement the procedure," he said.
Union officials hope the Federal Labor Relations Authority will require the agency to man the towers again and resume negotiations
with the union.
The process takes about three months, according to union representatives. Union leaders say that may allow Rios to pass
the issue along to his successor.
Rios, an El Paso, Texas, native who's worked at numerous prisons and is viewed within the bureau as an effective troubleshooter,
doesn't have any immediate plans to retire.
Facing Furloughs By Emily Long
In the first month of the new Congress, federal employees have been hit hard by proposals from lawmakers
to cut government jobs and further reduce their pay and benefits. Also on the table are mandatory furloughs, which, if implemented,
would start next year.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., on Jan. 12 introduced a bill that would require
all federal employees not working in the areas of defense, public health, homeland security, or law enforcement to take two
weeks of mandatory unpaid leave in fiscal 2012.
The proposal would not require federal workers to take a single continuous
two-week furlough. It could work more as it has in a number of states that in recent years have begun furloughing employees
on specified days, or requiring workers to take unpaid leave for a certain number of hours annually to help ease budget shortfalls.
But observers have questioned the impact of a federal furlough, noting it might cost more than it would save.
According to the Office of Personnel Management, federal employees can be
placed on emergency furlough in the case of a government shutdown, when agencies no longer have the appropriated funds to
perform services. A "save money" furlough, by contrast, occurs when an agency must cut costs as a result of downsizing, reduced
funding, or diminished work. These furloughs are planned and allow advance notice for employees.
With that as background, take our quiz to learn more about how a furlough
could affect you.
1. Do I lose benefits, such as health insurance and retirement credit,
during a furlough?
a. Yes. No pay, no benefits. b. No, but coverage could change depending
on the length of the furlough. c. No. The government will continue to provide benefits no matter what.
2. Can I take a second job during a furlough?
a. Yes, anything that will pay the bills is fair game. b. Yes, but agency
ethics rules still apply and will prohibit certain kinds of employment. c. No. Being a fed means no on-the-side jobs.
3. Can I still take my vacation, or request to use paid leave while on
a. Yes, you can still get a paycheck for those days off. b. Yes, if you've
already decided to take paid time off, but no new requests will be honored. c. No. All paid leave will be canceled, whether
planned or unplanned.
4. Am I still eligible for performance awards, within-grade and step increases
during a furlough?
a. Yes and no. Agencies don't have to pay performance awards, but cannot deny
within-grade and step increases. b. Yes. Furloughs affect only base salaries. c. No. All pay increases come to a halt
Think you've mastered the 411 on furloughs? Click here for the answers.
FEDERAL AUTHORITIES IDENTIFY COLEMAN INMATE KILLED IN PRISON FIGHT
By Arelis R. Hernández, Orlando Sentinel
'Se Piankhi-Shabaka was locked up for life on murder charges in the federal prison in Central Florida; prison remains on lockdown. Federal
authorities have identified an inmate that was killed after fight broke out between two prisoners at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter
County. Prison spokesman Gary Miller said Wo 'Se Piankhi-Shabaka was pronounced dead by emergency medical staff after
he fought with another inmate about 6 a.m. inside a housing unit in the men's high security facility — United States
Penitentiary II. The inmates were outside their cells when the fight began. Miller said the prison is under lockdown
while the FBI continues to investigate the murder. Lockdown confines inmates
to their cells. Piankhi-Shabaka was serving a life sentence for murder
on armed, burglary, and robbery charges in Washington, D.C. He has been a prisoner at Coleman since March 2007. Piankhi-Shabaka's
death was confirmed by an on-call emergency room doctor from the Leesburg Regional
Hospital an hour after the attack. Officials did not identify the other prisoner involved in the altercation.
No other inmates were hurt. The other inmate was placed in a special housing unit, Miller said. There was no word
on the cause of death. The attack occurred in a housing unit of 128 inmates in two-man cells. Miller declined to say how many
guards were on duty.
This is the second inmate death in less than a month at the country's largest federal prison.
On Dec. 17, inmate Miguel Jimenez was found stabbed in the recreation yard of the prison's other high security facility. Jimenez,
who was just a few months from release, later died from his injuries. That facility, United States Penitentiary I, is
still on lockdown while officials investigate the murder. The prison consists of five sections, including a low-security
wing, a medium-security wing, two high-security wings and a camp for female inmates. The sprawling complex about 50
miles northwest of Orlando houses about 7,300 inmates and has a history of inmate violence. Fights erupted between prisoners
and corrections officers
on two different occasions in October 2009, injuring the guards. Earlier that year in January, a riot broke out in
the prison yard. Eight inmates suffered stab
wounds and at least one gunshot wound. No guards were injured, and
no cause was ever released. Three inmates were hospitalized in 2007 with stab wounds. Two men were indicted in October 2007
after they beat and fatally stabbed another prisoner in the recreation yard.
Fight at Coleman federal prison kills an inmate
Inmate killed in fight at federal prison
A federal inmate died Wednesday after a fight with another inmate at Federal Correctional Complex northwest of Orlando.
Authorities say the conflict broke out about 5:50 a.m. in a housing unit.
Staff members separated the inmates, who were taken to the prison's medical department. One inmate died at 7:01 a.m. The
condition of the other inmate was not available.
Officials say the prison was placed on lockdown. Names of the inmates were not released.
Oakdale inmate sentenced for assaulting officer
The following is a news release from the United States Attorney's Office:
LAKE CHARLES, LA - United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced the sentencing of Howard Harris, 34, an inmate
at the Federal Correction Complex (FCC)
in Oakdale, La, for assaulting two correctional officers at the FCC facility. Harris was sentenced to
95 months in prison and three years supervised release following the completion of his prison sentence. The sentence was imposed
by U. S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi.
Harris was convicted after a one-day trial last September, on one count of assault of federal correctional officers. Court testimony showed that Harris, who had an extensive disciplinary
record, was assigned to the Special Housing Unit for disciplinary separation from the general population. On February 19,
2009, two correctional officers at FCC Oakdale were removing inmates from their cells in the Special Housing Unit and escorting
them to the recreation yard. During this process, Harris threw a liquid substance (feces and urine mixed together) through
the food slot onto the officers, striking them on the chest and in the mouth and eyes. The defendant's disciplinary record
includes incidents similar to the charged conduct in this matter.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was prosecuted
by Assistant United States Attorney Myers P. Namie.
Rolling Over By Emily
The new year brings with it an added benefit for spouses of deceased federal
workers or military personnel enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan: spouses now have their own personal beneficiary participant
During the past year, surviving spouse beneficiaries could participate in
an interim program that allowed them to leave beneficiary money in the TSP, but those funds now will be placed in accounts
under their own names rather than in a skeleton account. Beneficiaries whose share of the TSP balance is greater than $200
automatically will have a personal account established. Those with less than $200 will have funds paid directly to them rather
than the TSP account.
Beneficiary participant accounts automatically are invested in the stable
government securities (G) fund, but users can make interfund transfers into any of the individual TSP investment options or
a life-cycle fund, which mixes stocks, bonds and securities.
"There are a lot of different things you can do with [the money], but you
really need to take a step back and determine where you stand financially in the short term and what you want to accomplish,"
said Ashby Daniels, financial adviser at First Command Financial Services, adding beneficiaries need to assess their risk
tolerance and reinvest accordingly.
Surviving spouses who themselves are, or were, federal employees can move
beneficiary funds into their existing TSP accounts using Form TSP-90. They will not be able to make contributions or transfer money into their beneficiary
participant accounts, however.
If spouses roll the funds into their own TSP, then they forfeit the ability
to make early withdrawals from the beneficiary account without penalty, said Daniels. The withdrawal options are the same
as a regular TSP account, and beneficiaries can invest withdrawn funds in a different type of account, he said.
If funds came from a uniformed services TSP account, then they can include
tax-exempt contributions as a result of combat pay. That money cannot be transferred into a civilian TSP account and will
be distributed directly to beneficiaries.
Participants can designate account beneficiaries using Form TSP-3.
More than 1 million TSP participants no longer employed by the federal government
have funds remaining in their accounts. Tom Trabucco, director of external affairs for the TSP, said he expects beneficiary
participant accounts will be popular, but noted the program won't grow to the 1 million participant level.
"It's certainly not insignificant," he said. "We expect this is a number that's
going to grow over time as survivors continue to leave funds in the TSP."
Debut of the L 2050 Fund
The TSP also is preparing to open a new life-cycle fund, designed to
move investors to less risky portfolios as they get closer to retirement. The L 2050 Fund will open on Jan. 31 and will invest
higher percentages in domestic and foreign stocks -- C, S and I funds -- and lower percentages in government securities and
bonds (G and F funds). Participants can begin making contribution allocations and interfund transfers into the L 2050 at 12
p.m. EST on Jan. 28. The L 2010 Fund closed on Dec. 31, 2010, and all investments were.
Feds receive revised retirement
The Office of Personnel Management is reconciling federal
employees' retirement system deposits after years of miscalculated payments.
OPM has been working since 2008 on a fix to its Service Credit
System, which calculates retirement annuities for those who either did not contribute to the retirement fund during a certain
period, or those who received a refund of retirement contributions. The glitch caused employees in both the Civil Service
Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System to be charged incorrect interest rates on their service credit
deposits. In some cases, workers paid no interest at all, according to OPM. The agency estimated the error affected 12,000
OPM Director John Berry initially pledged to overhaul the system by April 2010.
OPM last week sent letters to all affected participants, including
those who made payments and did not receive a receipt, with account details. The agency has recalculated the interest owed
to determine current balances.
According to David Snell, retirement benefits manager for
the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, CSRS and FERS participants owing less than $100 have the option
to withhold the outstanding balance from their finalized annuity payment.
Other account holders will be given a one-time six month grace
period, which began Jan. 1, to pay off their current balance without accruing additional interest. If participants do not
pay off what they owe by June 30, then they will be charged interest on the remaining balance, according to OPM.
"With the law changing in 2009 that allowed FERS employees
to pay back for periods of refunded service, which before they couldn't do, and none of that service was creditable for retirement,
they can now repay for periods of service," said Snell. "I'm sure that that impacted workload at OPM at the same time they
were having problems with the system."