Campus Notebook: GAO Union Prepares for Decision on Cost Cuts

Posted October 18, 2011 at 6:26pm

A union representing employees of the Government Accountability Office is braced for announcements of layoffs and office closures today.

Agency officials said late last month that they would inform employees this week of their plans to cope with anticipated budget cuts.

And while they have remained mum on what these plans might entail, staffers on the ground are preparing for potential reductions in force, or RIFs, of its 3,000-person staff and the shuttering of some of its 11 field offices around the country.

Leaders of the GAO employees’ union sent a newsletter to its members Monday evening outlining certain recommendations it has made to management in hopes of easing the burden for staffers.

“We framed our approach to these discussions with the view that employees are willing to share in steps to reduce costs in order to preserve jobs — and to reduce the impact of any potential RIF action,” the newsletter reads.

The recommendations include furloughs, which union officials say could save the GAO $15 million to $18 million if each staffer is forced to take 10 to 12 unpaid days off during the next fiscal year.

Other suggestions to help the GAO “preserve jobs” include instituting a voluntary “days off without pay” policy and relocating field offices to locations with “less costly leases.”

The union also announced in its newsletter an agreement with management that employees laid off from field offices will have the option of transferring to positions at headquarters in Washington, D.C., including those whose entire offices are shut down.

It’s hard to predict how many people would take advantage of this opportunity, given the logistical and financial challenges of relocating at their own cost, said the union’s president, Ron La Due Lake.

“We do expect more employees would do so in the current economic environment, but a lot of people probably wouldn’t want to or be able to,” La Due Lake told Roll Call.

Though many staffers are preparing themselves for the worst, GAO management has been adamant that budget-
cutting measures could come in a number of forms and that layoffs are not inevitable.

“In reviewing the budget, the goal has been to maintain the quality of GAO’s work and its service to Congress and to minimize the impact on GAO’s people,” said the office’s spokesman, Chuck Young.

With officials silent on their course of action, rumors have run rampant. A few weeks ago, some staffers reported hearing that hundreds of employees could be let go and that two field offices could be eliminated.

But La Due Lake on Tuesday insisted that nobody knows for sure what will happen and that he and senior members of the union are also in the dark.

“They’ve kept a very, very close hold on this,” he said of GAO officials. “We’re very eager and very anxious to hear what the decision is.”

Honda Asks for Hearing on DOMA Contract

Rep. Mike Honda wants answers for how and why House Republicans tripled the cost of their outside legal contract to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

The California Democrat was critical in April of Republican leadership’s $500,000 contract with Bancroft PLLC to defend the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, which was done when the Justice Department said it would no longer do so.

He was silent earlier in the month when it was revealed that the contract would be increased to $1.5 million.

However, on Tuesday, in his capacity as ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Honda sent a letter to subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) requesting a panel hearing on the process by which the legal arrangements were made.

“In a time of professed fiscal responsibility, it is unconscionable … to spend taxpayer money to protect discrimination, especially through a process that has … lacked any semblance of transparency,” Honda wrote to Crenshaw. “I ask that you immediately hold a hearing on this matter so we can shine light on this irresponsible, backdoor use of taxpayer money.”

When news broke of the more expensive contract, many senior Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), deplored the move as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

On Tuesday, Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), reiterated that the cost could ultimately fall on the Justice Department’s shoulders — Congress sets the agency’s yearly budget and could give it a future allocation to reflect the House’s current legal fees.

“The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group voted to defend the law in court after the Justice Department chose to shirk its constitutional duty to do so,” Steel said. “As we have always said, the entire cost should be borne by that Department.”

Crenshaw’s office was unable to comment by press time.

Please send Campus Notebook tips here.