26 September 2023

UNITED STATES: Union anger over ‘think tank’ plan

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The United States Government’s plan to create a new Transportation Department Research Agency that would operate outside the Public Service system has drawn fire from Federal unions.

That detail was initially lost in the publicity surrounding the $US1 trillion ($A1.38 trillion) Infrastructure Bill that passed the Senate.

Now the unions are charging the Administration of President Joe Biden with embracing an approach to hiring and firing Government employees put in place by his predecessor, the anti-union President Donald Trump.

Adding to the anger and confusion among union officials is that while Mr Biden moved in his first days in office to repeal a Trump-era order, known as Schedule F, that sought to remove Public Service protections from a large class of Federal employees, his Administration now appears to be trying to use the same policy selectively.

President of the American Federation of Government Employees, Everett Kelley said while Mr Biden may have rescinded Schedule F “the reintroduction of this governance model in an Infrastructure Bill is gratuitous and unnecessary . . . and represents an attack on the underpinnings of an apolitical Civil Service”.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Infrastructure (ARPA-I) would operate as a high-visibility think tank of sorts.

It would be staffed by engineers and scientists working with State and Local Governments and universities to improve the Government’s capabilities in transportation projects that the Bill would invest in.

The idea, modelled on a similar Department created in 2007 to spur innovation at the Energy Department, was endorsed by Secretary for Transport, Pete Buttigieg (pictured) and his staff, who asked that it be included in the Infrastructure Bill.

The goal of the Agency is to quickly progress one of Mr Biden’s signature legislative programs, but employees of the new Agency would lack the Public Service protections enjoyed by the vast majority of Federal employees.

The Department of Transportation does not need to open the jobs to competition, but can use private head-hunters to hire staff members.

The employees would have few protections against retaliation for whistle-blowing and could be fired without appeal rights or other due process protections in cases of discipline or removal, that are pillars of the Public Service system.

Washington, 16 August 2021

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