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Minutes for 4-17-13 meeting

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Minutes of the April 17, 2013 Meeting of the Department of Commerce’s Labor-Management Forum at the Herbert C. Hoover Building, Secretary’s Conference Room

On April 17, 2013, the Department of Commerce Labor-Management Forum met in the Secretary’s Conference Room of the Herbert C. Hoover Building, Washington, DC. The meeting started at 1:30 PM and concluded at 3:45 PM

The members agreed to have the minutes of the January 16, 2013, meeting sent electronically to them for review and approval.

At the suggestion of the management co-chair, each of the members introduced themselves. One change was announced; Keith Curtis of labor announced that he will be stepping down and will be replaced by Steve Morrison, of the American Foreign Service Association.

The management co-chair, with concurrence from labor, changed the order of the agenda to start with New Business.

New Business

Review and reflections of the past three years:

The members reflected on the past three years, noting the growth in the levels of trust and commitment by all parties.

Randy Myers – Whatever we can work out in the group here will have tremendous cost savings for the agency.

Ellen Herbst – I believe this group has the potential to do great things. Looking at what the workgroups have done, such as the cost savings on travel.

Randy Myers – Not only the cost savings, but DOC received a lot of good press on it.

Ellen Herbst – This forum has demonstrated a lot of value with pointing out the [Federal] Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) and how our response rates have gone up. The value that is perhaps harder to quantify are the good relationships.

Labor Representative – Can we get a breakdown of the total travel savings?

Ellen Herbst – Frank and Valerie will get the travel numbers in whatever data we have on it.

Howard Friedman – It was a great way to start the meeting with looking back. Anything we can do to aid in pre-decisional involvement. There is no better place to talk about issues than in the forum. We can save money by doing it here or do it webcast. One way to communicate what we’ve been doing is in the past when we had a Secretary of Commerce, a message would be sent out to all employees. Not having a Secretary shouldn’t stop us from sending a message for the third year anniversary of the forum, and our accomplishments, along with what we want to accomplish in the future.

Katharine Lister – I would love to work on drafting a message to send out. Howard volunteered to assist.

Ellen Herbst – Nominated Kevin to work on it.

Randy Myers – I think through our forum here in the past 2 years, I look to the Census Bureau and their labor relations has improved vastly.

The forum discussed the possibility of having a representative from the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations in the Federal sector attend/observe an upcoming DOC forum meeting to give their opinion of how it’s operating and make recommendations for improvement. It was also recommended that both a management and union representative would be best. The discussion evolved into a discussion about having training being provided to the DOC forum, possibly to be held the day before the next forum meeting.

The forum will seek to hold a training session to be held the day before the next forum meeting.

Update DAO-202-711, Labor Management Relations, to include language about the Labor Management Forum

Dan Sobien had suggested that DAO 202-711 be revised to include the forum in order to memorialize it for the future.

Frank Milman – The DAO is in the process of being revised and made into a handbook. The nature of the handbook is to be a guide for labor practitioners, but we will look for a different appropriate setting for discussion of the forum.

Kevin Mahoney – Committed to having the handbook completed by the next forum date.

Dan Sobien – The way Frank described it; it is a handbook for the labor side about how to do procedures. If it can’t be in the handbook, can it be a new DAO? Could this be something that the policy-working group could take on?

Robert Budens – It’s more than memorializing the forum, it’s to formalize the process and the working together.

Kevin Mahoney – I think the policy working group is the right place to start in looking at whether this could be a DAO.

Pamela Swartz – The policy partnership-working group will discuss this and report back at the next meeting.


Ellen Herbst – Introduced Hari Sastry, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Resource Management, to the members and asked him to give a short update on Fiscal Year 2013 and 2014.

Hari Sastry – For FY14, the President released his budget about a week ago; we have rolled out most of our justifications, which can be accessed on our website. We anticipate this bill being marked up late summer, early fall. Dr. Blank had her budget hearing in front of House committees. At this point we wait and answer questions that come in from Congress.

For FY13, the Department received its appropriations bill. There are certain programs that received more money and some that received less. We’re looking at how we will operate from now until the end of the year. We have not completed this process yet. The spending plans are due to the Hill by May 10, 2013. The appropriations bill had a clause at the end that said if it didn’t stay under the cap that the President gave, it would be reduced, and that’s how we ended up with a rescission.

Hari Sastry – The President’s FY14 budget replaces the sequester.

Ellen Herbst – The House and the Senate have passed a budget resolution and the President has offered his.

Dan Sobien – Asked if DOC had a plan to implement sequestration during FY14.

Hari Sastry – We are focusing on FY13 right now. When we get past this hurdle we will focus on FY14. If we would have started planning for the sequester a year ago, the numbers would have been vastly different from where they ended up.

Ellen Herbst – We will get some indication for FY14 when we receive the mark-ups. The House and Senate will mark up the President’s budget request. History tells us, they’re usually two different approaches, but we at least start to narrow it down a bit more. We will be thinking about scenarios of what could happen effective October.

Ellen Herbst – No, bureaus have not submitted their spending plans yet. They’re due to us very shortly. They have not been reviewed by the Department or the Office of Management and Budget and have not been sent to Congress yet. We cannot assume that their feedback will address everything that we propose. We have to be careful because this process is very fluid. We have already taken steps to curve spending.

Dan Sobien – When you get an appropriation that has a rescission, and a sequester, do you take the rescission first and then the sequester?

Hari Sastry – Explained how the two are computed.

Howard Friedman – Expressed a strong desire that there should be more communication between management and labor regarding the budget, and while the unions understand there are certain details that cannot be shared with them, if management can share the problems they are dealing with, the unions may be able to help.

Ellen Herbst – The legislation affecting sequestration passed March 26, 2013.

Hari Sastry – It was about a week or a week and a half ago when we finally received the final numbers from OMB.

Ellen Herbst – The guidance was do your homework, these are your numbers, and make sure you understand it clearly enough. Thus far, we haven’t been ready to say this is the plan that we signed off on. The reality is there are some things that we have to start to do or plan to do, we can’t wait until the 45 days to pull the triggers, we won’t make it, we’ll be anti-deficient.

Howard Friedman – It sounds like almost rote responses that they can’t deviate from, it’s not transparent, it is a very difficult environment when there is a lack of communication. Will the communication channels open up?

Ellen Herbst – We would like to not give you messages that have not been fully vetted.

Katharine Lister – We’ve had a bureau that has changed the figures and the plan from day to day.

Bob Budens – You have one law that said you can’t be anti-deficient, but there are also laws that say you have to provide pre-decisional involvement. However, if there was better communication and we knew a little more about what is going on behind the scenes. We have grievances right now that are going to cost the Department a lot of money.

Renee Stone (NOAA Chief of Staff) – There are limits on what anyone in the administration is supposed to say until the President releases his budget. We are not the final decision makers; bureaus make a proposal to the Department, who proposes it to OMB. It’s a very moving target.

Dan Sobien – One of the problems we’re having is what we’re dealing with at USPTO, is how we define sequestration. The agency can’t tell us anything. We’re going to talk about it. I started talking about it yesterday. We need to know what is going on, and if the interpretations are going to be taken in the most negative.

Ellen Herbst – We are not at a political issue right now, we are at a work issue, sequestration is not something that the vast majority of people working in budget offices understand the mechanics of as the normal mechanics. We’re understanding what it means now. How sequestration works in a fee for agency, we didn’t know, we understand it now.

Howard Friedman – We talked about this, this morning. We wanted to be involved in pre-decisional before sequestration, but no one ever thought sequestration was going to happen. We have lack of information and we want to be involved. We represent the people who are taking the hit; we don’t want it to be lessons learned so we can change it in the future. Let us help you by getting us involved.

Ellen Herbst – Can I ask a question to that? What role does this forum have as a forum?

Dan Sobien – If you don’t fill in the blank, don’t be surprised with us filling in the blanks. We should have regular phone calls when we have stuff like this going on. Every CFO has to be the worst job in the world right now in govt. I think utilizing this forum for that exchange of information is probably the right level. We’ve all learned a lot.

Ellen Herbst – What can we do about it at this forum level? There are agreements in place and I respect that. Nevertheless, what can this forum do?

Dan Sobien – There is a tendency by management to check the box and say they met with the unions. If information was shared with us, we have a situation that on Monday NOAA announced that their employees were being furloughed.

Bill Lehar – One of the beauties of the forum is that we have the ability to develop B1 projects that would save money that we’re not going to save with the furloughs. That way, we can meet the harsh conditions that we have to meet with the budget.

Dan Sobien– At least in situations like this when things are fast moving, even one-way informational phone calls or other ways to debate things.

Keith Curtis – You’re getting the budget decisions from the agencies next week. I would have thought we would have had a discussion with them before it goes to you, and then before it goes to OMB, and then to the Hill. If we know when we need to get really nervous, it’s our imaginations that cause problems.

Keith Curtis – The President has put out guidance about awards, travel, training, and we might have wanted it in a different order. To some extent it’s about priorities, it’s what we care about most. There’s no reason why we can’t be having those conversations today.

Ellen Herbst – One is, communication after these meetings to the entire Department talking about what we talked about. Communication to clarify the memorandum on travel, training, etc. Interim conversations between meetings, how do we do that, not just in crisis, but more informally in between meetings?

Kevin Mahoney – I don’t know what the past practices have been, but I like the idea of a letter going out to the people signed by both co-chairs, and let them know we met and what we discussed. We have to find a way to get you information that is useful.

Pamela Swartz – Scott would send out something, set up a conference call.

Dan Sobien – One suggestion would be there should be information/reading material provided to them prior so it can be a real discussion.

Ellen Herbst – The one that is the key to the bigger issue. This issue of identifying new B1 projects.

Dan Sobien – Before we go to that, I think we need to encourage the others at the local level to participate in something similar to this forum.

Dan Sobien – I want to volunteer NOAA for a B1 project. We could charter it at the forum level. Let us sit down with the unions and management and we can discuss how money can be saved and worked together.

Renee Stone – I’m willing to talk about it, but I’m not willing to commit to it until I understand this.

Ted Johnson – Robert Budens and I were on the committee, and we asked for suggestions from the bureaus. One of the ideas that came out was print management. During the initial discussion this year, money is really tight; people are not going out buying new printers. Print management is not just purchasing printers, at the Census Bureau we’ve already accomplished things, we gave up desktop printers, we print double-sided, etc. We’re going to be working with DOC to come up with a DOC contract; they have a very good Census project.

Robert Budens – I went out to try and find some national B1 project reports and didn’t find any. I would have thought that the National Council would have had reports, but it was just a handful of projects. There doesn’t’ seem to be a clearing process for these projects. We’re not getting any inputs, virtually no input from the bureaus that we could bring to the forum.

Ted Johnson – Let’s get some additional ideas.

Kevin Mahoney – Robert, why do you think you’re not getting any ideas?

Robert Budens – Some organizations are not operating at the level we’re at. It doesn’t come down from the top as good as it should. That kind of energy comes from the top.

Ellen Herbst – Can you take a look at the agenda and see if there are any topics left on the agenda that you really want to talk about.


Kevin Mahoney – Briefed on Public Service Recognition Week

Kevin Mahoney – Briefed on Risk Clarity – Who does not know what risk clarity is? The whole risk clarity is determining whether employees know the proper avenues to use. We did a survey and had over 17,000 responses, and offices will be creating plans around their results. We’re anxious to figure out if the IGs office is the right place to go or if we need to establish something else. Bottom line, we want people to know how and where to talk about issues.

Dan Sobien – Are the unions going to get the results from last year’s FEVS survey before we get this year’s survey?

Kevin Mahoney – I had no idea you didn’t receive those.

Kevin Mahoney – Updated VERA/VSIP numbers.

Frank Milman – Briefed on telework. We drafted a policy and sent it to POPA and NWSEO. We’re reviewing the comments. When we issue the final policy, it will then go to each bureau and they will notify the union and give them an opportunity to bargain over the implementation of the new policy.

Ken Kukovich – Because the Economic Development Administration (EDA) ranked near the bottom of (285 out of 292) total reporting units, EDA management is conducting various employee focus groups in advance if the 2013 new EVS.

Reports from Working Groups

Dan Sobien – Update on workgroups: There really isn’t anything. The workgroups have been fairly quiet lately.

Kevin Mahoney – Same-Sex: The agency offers all of the benefits that we can legally offer under Title 5. We cannot match certain benefits that DOD has; they just have a different authority. Depending on what happens with DOMA, which will impact how domestic partners are viewed when it comes to health care. If DOMA changes, OPM will have to post regulations for comments, and then issue final regulations.

Howard Friedman – The policy partnership-working group can take on some of these policies. We need a point person other than Kevin. We need a coordinated effort for the working groups to meet.

Kevin Mahoney – Maybe we can figure out how to put the group meeting on a calendar. Frank and Valerie will be the points of contact until they replace Tracy.

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