Employees feeling the heat should look east

Federal Workers

July 22, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

COUNT YOUR blessings that you don't work for the Japanese government.

To conserve energy during a regional oil crisis, the Japanese government is forcing its employees to endure office temperatures of 82.4 degrees this summer.

Compare that to the U.S. policy of maximizing "customer satisfaction" in federal offices.

It is enough to form sweat marks on those dry-cleaned button-downs as bureaucrats in at least three Asian countries do their part to prevent blackouts and gasoline shortages during the hottest months of the year by setting an example for other citizens.

In Japan, federal workers have been told to shed coats and ties from June until the end of September to withstand the warmer indoor climate as part of the prime minister's "cool-biz" campaign, according to United Press International.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently announced that government air conditioners would be set at no lower than 79 degrees and would be turned off after offices empty. Some private businesses also are taking August vacations and then making the time up with six-day work weeks in the fall.

And the Jakarta Post reports that Indonesian officials are taking the stairs, not elevators, and limiting the use of lights. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his employees also are shedding Western-style suits for lighter, more traditional clothing in the face of similar office-temperature increases.

The American government also is trying to conserve, although far less drastically. The General Services Administration hopes to mark a 30 percent drop in federal agencies' energy consumption over 20 years, ending in September. The GSA has assigned each region targets to reach that goal.

But the only hard-and-fast rule is that the heat cannot be set above 55 degrees and the air conditioner should be turned off during nonworking hours, except to cool rooms to "suitable" levels for the start of the day.

Blake Williams, a spokesman for GSA, said the government had more specific national standards 15 years ago. Agencies needed to maintain temperatures between 74 and 80 degrees during the summer when the humidity was at 30 percent. The higher the humidity, the colder the building.

Personnel rules

New personnel rules at the Department of Homeland Security are on hold until Aug. 15 to give a federal judge time to rule on whether they would unfairly limit unions' collective bargaining rights.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer requested the delay July 14 , and DHS officials agreed to it July 15. Collyer's ruling is likely to be the first of many on controversial personnel changes planned for DHS, the Pentagon and the rest of the federal government.

When members of Congress created the homeland security agency, they gave its leaders broad leeway to build a new civil service system but also required them to protect collective bargaining rights.

Now, it is up to courts to decide whether provisions that give officials the right to override contracts, create internal boards to mediate labor disputes, control work assignments and install new technologies violate Congress' intent.

Pay parity

A key Senate committee approved a 3.1 percent raise for civil servants next year, matching the figure President Bush proposed for members of the military.

Last month, the House also boosted civilian pay to match the military's in its version of the 2006 spending bill.

So-called "pay-parity" would cost $1 billion more than the president's proposal, which offered a 2.3 percent raise to civilians, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The 3.1 percent raise still needs to pass through the Senate, conference committee and the president.

Discrimination bill

Fifteen members of Congress are sponsoring legislation reasserting the right of gay federal employees to protection from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

President Bush has banned such discrimination, but Special Counsel Scott Bloch told a Senate committee in May that he did not have the legal authority to enforce it.

Congress has twice tried to add sexual orientation to a long list of criteria for protected classes, including race, gender, disability, political affiliation, religion, nationality or marital status.

A spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee, which would be first in line to take up the matter, said only that the panel "is reviewing the legislation" this week.

The writer welcomes readers' comments and story tips. She can be reached at melissa. harris@baltsun.com or 410-715- 2885.

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