Obama Targeted Federal Workers
Then-candidate Barack Obama sent letters to federal employees promising them big gains if he got elected, Carol Leonnig writes in a front page story in today’s WaPo.
The letters, sent to employees at seven agencies, describe Obama’s intention to scale back on contracts to private firms doing government work, to remove censorship from scientific research, and to champion tougher industry regulation to protect workers and the environment. He made it clear that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would have an enhanced role in restoring public confidence in the housing market, shaken because of the ongoing mortgage crisis.
Using more specifics than he did on the campaign trail, Obama said he would add staff to erase the backlog of Social Security disability claims. He said he would help Transportation Security Administration officers obtain the same bargaining rights and workplace protections as other federal workers. He even expressed a desire to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s library system, which the Bush administration tried to eliminate.
“I asked him to put it in writing, something I could use with my members, and he didn’t flinch,” said John Gage, president of the 600,000-member American Federation of Government Employees, who requested that Obama write the letters, which were distributed through the union. “The fact that he’s willing to put his name to it is a good sign.”
Some worry that Obama may have overpromised, with program changes and worker benefits that would be impossible to achieve. “That strikes me as smart politics,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “We’ll soon find out if he can deliver when he has to deliver his first budget.”
It should be stressed at the outset that there’s nothing unethical, let alone illegal, about any of this under current guidelines. There is, however, something disquieting about mobilizing the massive federal workforce with promises of goodies from the public till.
My colleague Dave Schuler has proposed that no one whose livelihood comes from the government ought be allowed to vote, given the conflict of interest inherent in their employment and the tendency towards rent seeking it encourages. While I don’t endorse that — military personnel and other civil servants should certainly have a say in how they’re governed just like everyone else — I share his concern about the status quo.