W. Virginia not heaven for some FBI workers

FEDERAL WORKERS

August 17, 1994|By Julia Angwin | Julia Angwin,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- All day long, they stare at loops and swirls, arches and angles, trying to match fingerprints with criminals.

Roughly 1,500 Maryland residents work to sort through the prints of the nation's felons at the FBI's fingerprinting division in downtown Washington. But not for long.

The FBI is looking to modernize the Criminal Justice Information System by switching 200 million fingerprint cards and a whole floor of filing cabinets for computers and automated fingerprint recognition.

Congress agreed to fund a new facility with one catch -- it will be located in Clarksburg, W.Va.

But some of the employees don't want to move to West Virginia, despite the FBI's diligent campaign to educate employees about the joys of the Mountain State.

"We remain committed to any employee who wants to relocate to West Virginia, but some employees said they were not desirous," an FBI spokesman said.

So Congress is stepping in again, this time to ease the displaced employees' entry into the rest of the federal government work force.

The House passed a bill yesterday that would allow employees of the fingerprinting division to bypass rules prohibiting their entry into the federal work force.

Under current law, many FBI employees cannot qualify for most federal jobs because they did not take the competitive exams that other civil service workers must pass.

The legislation, if it is signed into law, would extend "career status" for two years to the FBI employees who do not wish to move to West Virginia. In that time, they could compete for jobs on an equal level with other career government workers.

But that may not be enough time, according to Leonard R. Klein, associate director for career entry at the Office of Personnel Management.

"With the work-force reductions that are being carried out throughout the federal government, it is unclear just how helpful this special appointing authority will be to CJIS employees who are unable or unwilling to relocate to West Virginia," he said.

*

Fifty-nine years and one day after its conception, the Social Security Administration was reborn as its own entity Monday.

At a Rose Garden ceremony, President Clinton signed legislation declaring the SSA independent of its federal masters.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the program in 1935 to provide a retirement fund for every American. But in recent years, SSA has been dogged by reorganizations and staff losses.

To cure its ills, Congress unanimously agreed to elevate SSA to a new status -- as an agency.

Starting immediately, the newly autonomous agency will begin to break away from the Department of Health and Human Services. SSA should celebrate completion of the transition to freedom by March 31.

"We're hopeful that the public will feel more confident of the program when it's independent and not subject to as much politics," SSA spokesman Phil Gambino said.

For SSA employees, he said, the change may not be dramatic. "I don't think the front line workers, who do rank-and-file work, will notice much of a difference," he said.

A transition planning team is mapping out new strategies in areas that used to be run by HHS -- personnel, payroll, budgeting and legislative affairs.

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