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Minutes for 1-16-13 Meeting

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On January 16, 2013, the Department of Commerce Labor-Management Forum met in Room 4830 of the Herbert Hoover Building, Washington, DC. The meeting started at 1:30 PM and concluded at 4:00 PM.

The members adopted the minutes of the October 17, 2012, Forum meeting.


Administration (Scott Quehl)

Scott Quehl announced he is leaving the Department of Commerce on January 25, 2013. He introduced Ellen Herbst, currently Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce. Ellen will assume the duties of Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration as well as the Forum’s Management Co-chair.

Sequestration (Michael Phelps)

Michael Phelps, Director, Office of the Budget, provided an update on sequestration and the budget. The Department is waiting on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide the Department its revised sequestration numbers.

It was reported that the Department is waiting for additional OMB guidance.

Dan Sobien. The OMB guidance says unions should be involved; is the Department going to send out guidance/notice that tells the bureaus to do that?

Michael Phelps. The Department will issue guidance to Acquisitions, Labor Relations, Human Resources, and others, including the unions, advising the parties on what the Department is doing on behalf of its employees.

Ted Johnson. Is there a chance the sequestration percent will be reduced?

Michael Phelps. Yes, there is a chance; however, I don’t want to get too far into it because OMB is doing the calculations based on their interpretation of the law. In terms of compliance with the law, the Department will be working with the bureau heads. Each bureau head and bureau CFO will develop a plan on how to sustain operations; they will brief the Office of Budget on their plan and that is the form of checks and balances.

Howard Friedman. Will the US Patent and Trademark Office be treated differently because they are fee funded?

Michael Phelps. No, because it is a salary expense appropriation, my office will be working with USPTO.

Howard Friedman made a suggestion to Ellen Herbst for the need to keep open the lines of communication.

Scott Quehl. There’s already a history to that although I cannot speak to what will happen when I leave.

Bob Budens. Once we know where the cuts are, is there going to be reprogramming to allow money to move where cuts are going to be? Usually that has to go through Congress; are they going to be rubberstamped because they are going to be overwhelmed?

Michael Phelps. Our Congressional staffers will be working close with us to sustain our operations.

Working Groups

    • Metrics (Tyra Dent Smith)

The Department submitted its report on the Use of Metrics by the Department’s councils and Forum to the National Council on Federal Labor Relations on December 20, 2012. The annual report is required by the National Council.

      o Federal Employee Value Survey (FEVS).

Tyra Dent Smith. OPM changed the method of calculating the results on the questions dealing with childcare and elder care. This was partially responsible for the greatly improved showing by the Department for 2012. A main reason for the increase was partnership.

Howard Friedman. At POPA, if we are committed to partnership as we are, let’s be committed to coming up with a best practice.

Dan Sobien. We would like to see a best practice coming out of USPTO and then try it out in other places. I’ll volunteer NOAA.

Margaret Spring. I would love to hear more about what has been done.

Bob Budens. Dave Kappos and I made a presentation at the National Council this morning. They had us and an LR pair from FAA and we were pretty much telling the National Council how we (POPA) moved from agencies and unions butting heads to a collaboration environment that allowed us to go far beyond even B1. Our approach to things right now is not even negotiability or management right. We figure out the problem and the solutions and then figure negotiability when we figure out where it needs to go. The National Council was talking about how to get these up and running in the second administration. Some agencies don’t even have them and the proof is in the pudding, and we need to publicize these things. You can’t do that if you are throwing rocks at each other, you have to be working together.

Scott Quehl. Gary Locke used a budget crisis in his state to engage the unions and legislature to determine how to deliver service in a way that was sustainable. Reference was made to a book titled, Price of Government by David Osborne & Peter Hutchinson.

Ted Johnson. We work close with the union (at Census Bureau) using study groups from both sides like on telework. That has been a winner for us.

Tyra Dent Smith. As an outgrowth, USPTO came in fifth, the Department came in fourth. The summary page reflects that outcome. The Best Places to Work index are increasing, still room for improvement. Where we do go from here? We have a responsibility to provide an action plan to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). We are still doing additional analytic work and internal discussion that goes into that. The Department Management Council (DMC) was briefed a couple weeks ago and, under Ellen Herbst, the DMC has agreed to take that on to identify opportunities to enhance and improve. What was submitted to OPM was at a very broad high level; we will look at 3-5 areas where we need to focus, in addition to the FEVS. We have other data points to bring in to the planning process. The Corporate Leadership Board is also helping present information in a more detailed format. We have a risk survey going on and other management data. OPM has given us some flexibility in finalizing our action plan strategy, no finite date, but due in about 4-6 weeks.

Dan Sobien. One with a negative rating (pay raises), four with neutral rating, 41 results used to make a better place to work 66% and 67. 99%. One question was unique to the Department regarding IDP; 27% said they had an IDP, 22% said no but would like to, 38% not sure what it is, and 14% do not have an IDP.

Keith Curtis. Where can they get a further breakdown by bureau?

Tyra Dent Smith. Each bureau head was given their specific results. There will be a Department- wide release but may just be a timing issue.

Dan Sobien. Does each bureau have to come up with a plan to address?

Tyra Dent Smith. No, but they are encouraged. The only requirement is a response to OPM.

Dan Sobien. One of the results says the survey won’t have any impact. If that was sent out to people, what are we going to do to make it better?

Scott Quehl. Could that be something a working group takes over? I know at Census, for example, there is down to the directorate action planning.

Ted Johnson. We are still looking at it but not quite there yet.

Scott Quehl. Where could any employee go to find out the specific information; is it available?

Valerie Revelez. It is available online at the Commerce-wide website (Commerce wide results). We are still waiting for approval for the bureaus.

QUESTION on FEVS results to Valerie. We wanted to track childcare and elder care. Tyra indicated a change to calculating; can you determine if there was an improvement at all or can you tell from your analysis?

Valerie Revelez. We can’t tell from our 2010 standpoint, but we can tell the difference from 2011. We improved by 1 percent since 2011 childcare and 9 percent on elder care.

      o VSIP/VERA (Tyra Dent Smith)

We had 470 employees separate through VSIP. We are putting together a package to go to OPM; five offices in CFO/ASA are asking for authority through 2013. Call for 2013 for VERA/VSIP is going to PHRMs now, we are allowing a window for 2013, haven’t seen it, nothing in writing but have talked about it with PHRMs.

    • Telework (Tyra Dent Smith)

OPM announced changes to their Washington, DC dismissal policy. They have indicated that if employees signed telework agreements, they are expected to work when the Federal Government is closed unless unforeseen basis.

Dan Sobien. There might be many reasons that people can’t telework, e.g., if you are a primary caregiver and then there’s no daycare.

Tyra Dent Smith. We will consider each situation on a case-by-case basis and grant administrative leave where appropriate.

Union. Who decides that? What if you are working at an alternate worksite that is hit by weather? In addition, is DOC planning to amend telework policy just to include the dismissal of Washington DC?

Frank Milman. OPM’s guidelines only affect impact inside the Beltway, but the Department is amending its Department-wide policy to incorporate OPM’s new language.

Tyra Dent Smith. We have some draft language and are ready to move forward.

Laurie Schwede. Should individual bureaus wait to hear from the Department or go ahead and do their own? Census is thinking about sending out a broadcast message next week.

Scott Quehl. Let’s stay away from individual bureaus. We will get together here and let you know. We would not give direction to a bureau from the Forum.

Ted Johnson. We can look at options but should not implement until we see where the Department is.

Dan Sobien. How can Census send something out until it has been NCR’d?

Ted Johnson. We won’t send it out or implement until we hear from the Department.



    • Communications (Howard Friedman)

His working group met with the Personnel Policy Working Group (PPWG) to discuss how to roll out pilot, best way is to do a webinar. Tracy and Frank will work on logistical, save union and HR people time.

Dan Sobien. Our co-chair of the PPWG will be Pam Schwartz. New people around the table that may not know about the PPWG.

Pam Schwartz. Objectives are good for everyone, policies unions are going to know about them sooner. To get a better policy, save time for Department and bureaus, less potential NCR for the Department and negotiations. I found when you work on it together it holds up better than formal negotiations.

    • Other business

Dan Sobien. Can we discuss streamlining the group travel approval process; it is very cumbersome and has cost a lot of money because can’t get cheaper airfares, sometimes they don’t know until 24 hrs until they have to leave. Sometimes it takes 4-5 weeks to be approved. Is there something that or just working out kinks, so we expect this to work better in future?

Scott Quehl. Annual conferences are known well in advance, we have a much more rigorous process in accordance with OMB. We are fourth best out of 19, it is important to have what happened at GSA so our methods and means are now well defined, auditing on quarterly basis bureau compliance and those are proved to Congress. There have been growing pains, we have talked to everyone and had zero optically challenged results since we had those talks in August, so we are learning and getting better, I hear what you are saying but since we know these things are coming, we simply need to plan better.

Dan Sobien. Therefore, kinks that need to work out about the rigidity of the process, there’s a last minute person that needs to be added and they can’t be added to the list.

Scott Quehl. Any idea to improve the process is welcome, if you have a comment on how to improve Department- wide policy.

Dan Sobien. It may have gone through NCR, believe it was told won’t have impact on working conditions but clearly it is having impact. I can tell you one person at NWS who wasn’t able to go to conference because couldn’t be added.


    • As FEVS info becomes available, can we link it to the Forum website?

    • Ted Johnson and Bob Budens want to document those best practices and then determine how we use that so we can learn from each other and at a later Forum meeting decide if they want to handle that later. It is up to Bob and Ted gets a message out to all other LMR councils and asks for best practices.

Dan Sobien. Maybe we should look at the other LMR councils around the country to see what was successful at other parts of Government and see what we can do here.

Dan Sobien. Maybe at USDA they are doing something that we should do here, we should look at what’s going on across the country.

Howard Friedman. See what else is being done at the national and see what ideas we want to steal.

Bob Budens. SFLERP gives out awards for most improved, we need to publicize more, FAA didn’t know what was going on at the Department and vice versa. Motion to pursue this idea was carried.

Meeting adjourned at 3:30 PM.

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