1,000 points of contention
WASHINGTON -- The White House has asked all federal employees to report their after-hours volunteer activities, bringing President Bush's "1,000 Points of Light" campaign slogan home to the government.
The White House has directed all agencies to include volunteeactivities in their reports to the president, according to administration sources and a memorandum issued to Justice Department managers last month by the attorney general's office.
"The idea is simply to gather information that augments the morofficial routine departmental business that is of interest to the president, so that he will be able to know of and to praise the many substantial good works of federal employees," said a White House official.
Administration sources said the information will be used tproduce a how-to guide for federal employees who would like to become involved in tutoring, drug-counseling or other volunteer activities. Individuals might receive some recognition for their efforts, such as the daily "Point of Light" award given by the White House, the officials said.
But some federal employees are objecting to doing a report otheir off-hours activities.
"I think there was a general feeling that this was somewhat ainvasion of privacy -- since volunteer activities have nothing to do with our federal jobs -- and that the motive was political more than anything else," said one Justice Department employee.
Some Justice workers were particularly sensitive to thvolunteerism request in the wake of a controversial 1989 memo from Attorney General Richard Thornburgh urging department employees to consider adopting children.
The American Federation of Government Employees, whicrepresents about 27,000 Justice Department employees, called the earlier memo "simply outrageous" and an intrusion into employees' personal decisions.
But federal employees who may want to get paid for what they do on their free time, such as writing articles or giving speeches, are out of luck in January or longer.
The new, tightened-up government ethics law that went inteffect last week bans government workers from accepting such outside income. Legislators and the Office of Government Ethics say it was all a mistake, but that won't help moonlighters even if the income-producing activity bears no relationship to their jobs.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a NationaTreasury Employees Union appeal to block the law, leaving a Jan. 29 hearing before a federal appeals court the only challenge to the statute.
A district judge in the District of Columbia had earlier refused tblock enforcement of the law although there was "a substantial legal question." The judge refused to act because he found no proof of irreparable harm.
NTEU argues that because the ethics law doesn't ban all outsidactivities by federal employees, it targets their First Amendment freedom of speech rights.
Pact for troops:
The American Federation of Government Employees has negotiated an agreement to protect the insurance and other benefits of Social Security Administration employees who are sent to the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Shield.
SSA has agreed to:
* Waive the employee share of health insurance premiums for uto a year for employees on leave without pay, which means forgiving $200 a pay period for Blue Cross high option, for example.
* Retain an employee called to active duty in the same positioon his or her return.
* Count time spent in the military toward civilian senioritywithin-grade step increases, annual leave rates, career tenure, merit promotion and so on.
The agreement closely parallels guidance the Office of PersonneManagement gave federal agencies last year to assure the government acts as a model for other employers whose workers are sent to the Gulf.
The union estimates less than 1 percent of its personnel, or amany as 600 employees, have been called to duty. SSA headquarters, however, reports after checking with its 10 regional offices that only 68 Social Security employees have been called away because of Desert Shield.
"We are very proud of our fellow workers during this time ointernational crisis," said AFGE Local 1923 President John Gage.
Cost-of-living adjustments for 2.2 million veterans who get compensation benefits for service-connected injuries and disabilities got lost in the legislative shuffle last year.
So Reps. Sonny Montgomery, D-Miss., and Bob Stump, R-Ariz.wasted no time in introducing a bill that would give them and 300,000 widows and children of veterans who died a 5.4 percent COLA.
"Other beneficiaries received increases which will help thekeep pace with the cost of living, and that's fine," Montgomery said, "but it is unconscionable that, while others get the increase, veterans who have suffered disability and illness in service to their country are denied this opportunity."
Montgomery predicts that if Congress acts quickly, the veteransCOLA could go into the March 1 checks. To move things along, Montgomery has gotten assurances from House Speaker Thomas Foley that the bill will be acted upon quickly. A majority of House members already have signed on to the measure.