Three problems making Gore goals hard to reach

FEDERAL WORKERS

January 05, 1994|By Ned Martel | Ned Martel,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore is running into problems in attempting to reach his goals of simplifying employee-manager relations in the federal work force.

First, layoffs could become necessary if the Clinton administration honors its pledge to cut 252,000 from the work force.

And managers, who have long avoided the cumbersome process of firing employees, face institutional burdens if they do try to dismiss a worker.

"We don't think the procedure itself is the problem," said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executive Association, which represents federal managers. "The factor which often gets in the way is the threat of grievances and equal employment opportunity complaints that can really tie you up in knots for a long time."

Some employees challenge their dismissal as instances of racial or gender discrimination, a charge supervisors often spend a lot of time trying to disprove, Ms. Bonosaro explained. The procedure has made managers avoid confronting employees who deserve to be fired, she said.

"The mere existence of a complaint is a judgment that you have not done a good job on equal opportunity goals," Ms. Bonosaro said.

Second, goals to shrink the work force must steer clear of progress in affirmative action, especially when a recent report on dismissed federal employees shows that minorities face a greater likelihood of being fired.

Minority federal workers were fired at more than twice the rate of whites in 1992, according to the report last month by Knight-Ridder News Service, which used Office of Personnel Management statistics.

Just before the holidays, Robert Tobias, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, urged federal agencies to take "immediate action . . . to correct this problem, not just more

studies and task forces."

Mr. Tobias doesn't want managers to wait for an official policy before trying to reverse the trend. "The federal government cannot sit on its hands while finding a root cause to this problem," he said.

Improving both motivation of employees and education of managers about racial sensitivity are two immediate solutions, said George King, a NTEU spokesman.

NTEU joined the Internal Revenue Service in a study of that agency's 110,000 employees and found minorities were disciplined more often. The reasons included absence and unacceptable performance. A more complete understanding of what is expected of each employee could help change things, Mr. King said.

Ms. Bonosaro cautioned critics from laying the minority problem at the door of senior executives when "partnership" between labor and management is the watchword among all bureaucratic levels.

And finally, Mr. Gore's goal of changing the manager-to-employee ratio from the current average of 1-to-7 to 1-to-15 will increase the strain facing managers and employees, she said.

If the ratio is changed, managers who supervise a far greater number of employees could see their responsibility doubled, compounding existing problems. If a foreman has 50 workers to oversee, the new ratio sets up as many as 100 under his supervision, Ms. Bonosaro said.

More employees would have to share the same boss and anxieties over stalled career paths would escalate.

"The rank-and-file will have far fewer opportunities to move into management," Mrs. Bonosaro predicted. "The competition will be far more intense for the supervisory jobs that do open up. And you might see far more complaints about the selection process."

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