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Minutes for 6/15/11 Forum Meeting

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On June 15, 2011, the Department of Commerce Labor-Management Forum met in Room 4830, Herbert C. Hoover Building. The meeting started at 1:30 PM and concluded at 4:30 PM.

Scott Quehl, CFO and Assistant Secretary of Administration and Dan Sobien, President of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, opened the meeting as Labor Management Forum Co-Chairs by seeking approval for the March 16 meeting minutes. The members approved the minutes.

1. Administrative Update

    • Jay Reich, Deputy Chief of Staff, provided the Forum members with a brief update on key personnel issues. Mr. Reich stated that Secretary Locke appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 26, 2011, for his nomination to serve as Ambassador to China. Mr. Reich explained that the Secretary must be approved by a vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then by the Senate. Mr. Reich further stated that Mr. John Bryson and Mr. Terry Garcia, nominees for Secretary and Deputy Secretary, respectively, have their Senate confirmation hearings scheduled for June 22.

    • Mr. Quehl stated that the White House’s Government reorganization effort began in January with an examination of Federal Departments and Agencies that deal with trade and exports. In March, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was given direction to develop a plan. OMB recently submitted its plan to the White House for review, and Mr. Quehl stated Commerce leadership certainly shares their goal to eliminate redundancies and duplicative functions, while focusing on ways the Government can assist U.S. workers and businesses in being more innovative at home and competitive abroad.

      ♦ A discussion about the reorganization followed, with several question posed by the Forum members to Mr. Quehl. Mr. Dan Sobien, Co-Chair of the Labor Management Forum, asked Mr. Quehl if the reorganization was to move functions into Commerce or out of Commerce. Mr. Quehl replied that we do not know any specifics at this point. Rick Siger, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary, reinforced that while there have been several press reports, we do not currently have any insight into the proposed reorganization. He stated that one could assume that there will likely be discussion with the White House about OMB’s proposal, but we do not have clarity on the proposal or timing. Mr. Siger, in response to a question about the extent of Capitol Hill’s involvement in the reorganization plans, replied that Mr. Zients has consulted with Capitol Hill and clearly, there is great interest among certain members of Congress.

    Members of the Forum asked Mr. Siger if the Department has been asked for its opinion. He replied that the Department had been asked to provide verbal input, but nothing in writing, but ultimately the Department supports the President’s final reorganization plan. Scott Quehl, when asked who is leading the reorganization effort on behalf of the President, said that Jeffrey Zients, Lisa Brown from the White House, and a small team of advisors from OMB are leading the efforts.

2. Performance Awards

    • Scott Quehl and Dan Sobien sought approval from the Forum to amend the agenda to include a discussion about the recent memo issued jointly by OMB and OPM on performance awards. The forum agreed. Bill Fleming, Director for Human Resources Management, provided an overview of the OMB/OPM joint memorandum for performance awards.

    • Fleming summarized the June 10, 2011, memo by informing the group that there will be a cap of 5% of aggregate salary on the FY12 SES/SL/ST bonus pool and a 1% cap of aggregate salary on all non-SES awards pool. However, this caps are not effective where bonuses are subject to collective bargaining agreements.

    • A member asked if the Department would give any kind of direction on implementation of the memo. Bill Fleming stated the policy is quite clear on its face and encouraged the members to read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Mr. Sobien stated that the subject of mandatory performances awards (including the amount of the award) is often the subject of “prior practice”. Such prior practice has the same force as language in a collective bargaining agreement or memorandum of understanding except that prior practice is not subject to automatic expiration like a contract term and must be negotiated to change. Mr. Reich said he appreciated this was a difficult situation for all employees. Bill Fleming clarified that this would affect FY 12 only – no mention yet of FY 13. The labor members felt strongly that this change would negatively affect the high performers and productivity. Bill Fleming clarified that there is no limit on what one person can receive, just an overall percentage limit.

    • Howard Friedman, President of NTEU Chapter 245, read an email from the National Council of the National Treasury Employees Union that strongly expressed the Council’s belief that the limitation is misguided and irresponsible.

    • Labor members asked if the Department had given any thought about how it can reward employees with means other than bonuses. Mr. Quehl said that the Department is recognizing its outstanding performers through the Performance Excellence program, but hoped that the Forum might suggest other creative ways to recognize these employees, including training, travel and other recognition programs.

    • Robert Budens, President of the Patent Office Professional Association inquired if Commerce was asked to provide a response and if this was simply a select group at OMB who came up with the proposed limit on performance awards. Scott Quehl responded that a team at OMB had carefully and thoughtfully proposed this idea, and the Department provided input about the first draft, along with other agencies. Ultimately, the language was modified.

    • Mr. Friedman stated that all members want to move forward in a constructive manner, but asked that it be placed in the record that labor is strongly opposed to the cap on performance awards.

3. Framework for Project Collaboration

    ● Mr. Sobien reminded members that the Forum had created a team to collaborate on a new telework policy because of a recently enacted law. He indicated that he felt the manner of the team’s operation was not in keeping with previous pre-decisional projects, e.g. the draft report was written by management without consultation and labor representatives were not given a meaningful opportunity to participate in the process. Many ideas were suggested on how to encourage meaningful engagement earlier, but ultimately the forum members agreed that each team lead (labor and management) would get together upon assignment of the project and develop a plan that addressed involvement of labor and management with goals and milestones.

4. Administrative Savings

    • Cost Reduction Project: Anne Rung, Senior Director of Administration provided an overview of the Commerce Cost Reduction project, which is targeted to save the Department $24 million a year through smart buying and better management of resources. The ultimate goal is to find relatively painless ways to save money and apply savings to avoid painful cuts in mission critical programs.

    • The project consists of four key pieces:

      ♦ Wireless: Disconnecting zero usage lines and optimizing rate plans for wireless devices to save $2m a year;

      ♦ Printing: Printing double-sided, black and white, draft quality, and reducing desktop printers to save $4m a year;

      ♦ New Contracts: Creating three new Department wide contracts for PC printers and increasing use of two Government wide contracts for office supplies and ground delivery to save $11m a year; and

      ♦ Better Tools: Use new reporting tools to gain greater insight into the Department’s acquisitions.

    • A discussion ensued about the pros and cons of making the Department-wide contracts mandatory and one member raised specific concerns about the reduction in desktop printers affecting productivity.

5. Human Resources:

    • The human capital initiative for administrative savings is divided up into three categories: 1. Position Control, 2. Position Management, and 3. Return to Work.

    • The Department would use Position Control (VERA/VSIP) to abolish, downgrade or delay in hiring to create lapse, a position vacated by an employee voluntarily separating from the government.

    • Position Management is the altering of a selected vacant and funded FTE by not filling the position (abolish), downgrading the position, or delaying the filling of the position to create lapse.

    • Return to work is an attempt to create savings by returning long-term injured employees on the workers compensation rolls that are medically able to come back to work. This program would reduce the department’s overall periodic rolls compensation costs.

    • Bureaus had the option of selecting any or all of the human capital initiatives in their effort to meet their administrative savings mark.

6. New Projects

    • Telework Go-To Team: Scott Quehl proposed that a team be assembled to promote telework throughout the Department and to ensure a smooth transition to the new policy. Dan Sobien offered that he thought that was a good idea, and both agreed that a team, perhaps led by PTO, could conduct a “road-show” to help address any employee issues and questions about telework and highlight efforts already underway. All agreed that when a team is assembled, the co-leads would develop a project plan for implementation.

    • Better Utilize Technology: Dan Sobien suggested that the Forum might want to explore ways to utilize technology more efficiently to promote effectiveness and efficiencies. Scott Quehl stated that Commerce Connect, a project in 16 cities that utilizes technology to connect Commerce customers throughout the nation to Commerce services in an easy, user-friendly way, might serve as an excellent project for the Forum to collaborate on and support. Mr. Sobien asked if there was a pilot underway regarding this issue. Mr. Quehl stated yes. The Patent Trade Office (PTO) has a call center serving as a Tier 1 host for customers seeking information. Mr. Quehl suggested the center host a conference call with Dennis Alvord, the Director the project, to walk the Forum members through the project.

7. Update on Telework and Idea Generation

    • Telework: The revised plan is going through the National Consultation Rights process with NWSEO and POPA. Upon conclusion of that process, the revised DOC plan will issued.

    • Idea Generation: Anne Rung stated that Dan Sobien and Scott Quehl hosted a May 25 conference call with the Forum members on next steps for idea generation. She stated that key themes from the March 16 Forum meeting included processes that emphasized a bottoms up approach; regular interaction between labor and management throughout the Department; local knowledge; and a focus on the views of line employees.

    • As such, the Forum agreed to an approach to generate idea is to utilize the bureau-level Labor Management Councils/Committees to conduct facilitated brainstorming sessions on ideas to generate efficiencies, effectiveness and savings. The goals would be to:

      ♦ promote labor-management partnerships throughout the Department;

      ♦ utilize the expertise of individuals within the bureau-level councils/committees who are closest to the issues and challenges facing front-line workers;

      ♦ promote the utilization of bureau-level labor management councils/committees for innovation and problem-solving; and

      ♦ assist in promoting the culture of innovation and problem solving throughout the Department.

    • Anne explained that the next step is for Scott Quehl and Dan Sobien to reach out to the Bureau Councils/Committees via a memo drafted by the Communications group, which contains detailed on the suggested process for idea generation.

8. Update from Working Groups

    • Innovation Working Group: Bob Budens provided an update on their effort to provide employees with resources on elder care and child care, two issues that were raised by employees as important to them in last year’s Employee Viewpoint survey. The working group has been successful in tracking down a Governmental website that contains a comprehensive set of links on elder care, and Bob suggested they send out a broadcast, prepared by members of the communications group, highlighting the link. They continue to search for helpful resources on childcare.

    • Bob further stated that the travel project is generating savings. Mr. Sobien suggested we could increase our savings if the guidance was clearer, or communicated more frequently. He asked if we could distribute to employees a short, clear summary of the guidance.

    • Scott Quehl suggested the Forum move to send the broadcast email out the next day on elder care. The move was approved and the email subsequently sent to all Commerce employees.

    • Metrics Working Group: Bill Fleming stated the final response rate for Commerce to the Employee Viewpoint Survey was 50%, higher than last year’s rate of 46%, but lower than their goal of 70%. He stressed that it will be important that we equal or exceed the overall Government average, which has not yet been tabulated. Detailed responses to the survey will be available later this summer. Mr. Fleming circulated a detailed breakdown of response rates by Bureau. He also provided the Forum members with savings numbers from the travel project, which totals more than $100,000 since the program’s inception in October 2010.

    • Communications Working Group: Howard Friedman, co-chair of the Communications group, stated that their role is to promote and highlight the projects of the other two working groups and the Forum, including participation in the Employee Viewpoint survey and communicating useful information on elder care and childcare. He was pleased that the Communication working group drafted the April 2011 broadcast that was sent successfully to all Commerce employees by Secretary Locke highlighting the one-year anniversary of the Forum and its accomplishments since then.

Mr. Friedman explained the broadcast email on elder care also contained language explaining the important role of the Labor Management Forum, and that these broadcasts are useful means to communicate constantly that message.

    • At the conclusion of the working group presentations, Mr. Sobien requested that the labor management forum website list the useful links and communications sent out by the Forum (e.g. broadcast on one-year anniversary of forum, broadcast email on elder care and a link to helpful sites, useful travel information).

9. Future Agenda Items

    • Scott Quehl suggested that Dennis Alvord, Director of Commerce Connect, provide a summary and update to the Forum on the initiative.

    • Anne Rung stated that at the next meeting she would be suggesting names to replace Jay Reich as a member of the Forum, and Andrew Winer as Co-Chair of the Innovation working group.

    The meeting adjourned at 4:30 PM.

    Attendees for 6-15-11 Meeting

Printed Name


Phone Number

Budens, Robert



Chandler, Adam



Cunningham, John



Curtis, Keith



DiGiacomo, Brian



Dolphin Tené



Faulkner, Jim



Fleming, William



Friedman, Howard



Lehr, Bill



Matera, Marguerite



Milman, Frank



Myers, Randy



Quehl, Scott



Reich, Jay



Rung, Anne



Schwartz, Pamela



Sharkey, Hugh



Siger, Rick



Sobien, Dan



Stephens, Frederick



Turner, Fred






Michael Culpepper



Moses Sterngast



Roger Williams



Bill Hopkins




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