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.

via Memeorandum

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Federal employees already have limitations placed on their First Amendment rights by the Hatch Act. If we take Dave’s suggestion seriously, I’d say the ban should effect everyone who has their hand out for government dole, including contractors, state and local government employees, welfare, Medicare recipients, etc……

  2. talboito says:

    “I share his concern about the status quo.”

    Obama’s list of promises: no censorship, fewer private contracts, more flexibility and responsibilty are what we in the business call plans for “change”.

    You might remember the idea from every speech Obama made during the primary and campaign.

    The knock had been Obama promises “change” as generic, this is “change” in the specific, and good change at that.

  3. JKB says:

    Hey, it was change, just changing back to the way things were done under Carter.

    Roll back contracting out non-inherently governmental tasks, slap upside the face of Al Gore.

    Not sure where the “tougher industry regulation to protect workers and the environment” helps government employees. Might be better to champion holding the federal agencies to the regulations and standards industry is held to. Chemical plants, refineries and nuclear facilities are far safer for the average worker on the average day than most federal office buildings. The whole budget constraints and internal compliance conflict.

  4. Bithead says:

    Yeah, gee, that sounds lots better, don’t it?
    If you’re a government employee, and a union member.

    Remember we talked about the Bog three bailout being just a UAW bailout instead? This is just more of the same.

  5. Drew says:

    I am labeled a cynic every time I point out that only a small portion of the vast sums of money spent on government programs (ostensibly to cure society’s ills) actually reaches the “less fortunate,” with the balance siphoned off to employ a vast government bureaucracy – a reliable voting block if I’ve ever seen one.

    Further, I point out that those social ills just never quite seem to get ‘fixed,” since politicians seem to have been able to run on fixing them decade after decade after decade.

    Now, smooth talking pols and an army of government workers surely benefit from those govt program expenditures. But, then, who really cares for the poor??

    Anyone want to bet that 20 years from now a fresh faced, say, Hispanic American will come along, run on “change, hope and helping the poor”……….everyone will call it “historic.”……the government will be bigger…..and the less well off will be just as less well off as today.

    Cynical? Perhaps. Empirically true as well.

  6. Triumph says:

    There is, however, something disquieting about mobilizing the massive federal workforce with promises of goodies from the public till.

    J-Dawg- Did you actually read the letters? What “goodies from the public till” did Obama promise?

    Also, it is important to qualify what was going on when he “sent letters to federal employees.” Phrasing it like that makes it sound like he was using intra-office direct mail to conduct his campaign.

    The letters were addressed not to federal employees, but to John Gage of the AFL-CIO. They were clearly responses to issues and questions brought up by the union. The union then circulated copies of the letters to its members.

    Only 35% of the federal workforce is represented by Gage’s union so I am not sure how these letters are indicative of “mobilizing the massive federal workforce.” Assuming copies of the letter went to all members, the information was only sent to a little more than a third of the workforce.

    Furthermore, why can’t unions “mobilize” their members? That’s their job, for crissakes.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Like a self sustaining nuclear reaction needs critical mass the number of government employees, union members, and those related to them has reached critical mass. There are now enough of them to push policy in one particular direction.

    The only thing likely to slow or stop this march to the left is a near or complete bankruptcy of the system. A sort of national chapter 11 reorganization that would wake up leadership and allow a renegotiation of obligations. The outlook is dim.

    With this many at the trough and so few filling it some expect Atlas to shrug. It won’t happen. While it’s an interesting novel and full of lessons we will never see people give up in such a manner. The world is not built that way.

  8. Roger says:

    Somehow a letter to federal employees seems like “small potatoes” compared to Reagan’s contact with the Iranians before the 1980 election and Nixon’s contact with the North Vietnamese before the 1968 elections, in both cases telling them could get a better deal from the GOP after the elections than from the Democrats…

  9. MM says:

    I’d say the ban should effect everyone who has their hand out for government dole, including contractors, state and local government employees, welfare, Medicare recipients

    To truly extend it to everyone who benefits from the government dole, we would need to add people who have children, people who are paying off student loans and anyone with a mortgage of less than $1,000,000.

    The thought process behind not letting government employees vote is typically (I’ve never seen Dave’s argument, so I can’t say whether he fits this case or not) “People who don’t vote like me shouldn’t vote”. I heard the same thing from Ron Paul supporters during the primary regarding anyone who didn’t favor the gold standard, anyone who didn’t want to complete the wall at our southern border, anyone who wasn’t alarmed about the Amero, etc….

  10. tom p says:

    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.

    OK James and Dave, add me to the ones who are adamently opposed to the very idea…

    Are YOU willing to give up your vote because you benefit from the “status quo”? We all benefit from the Fed Gov’t and it’s largesse… Are we all precluded from voting then? The Fed Gov’t has it’s fingers in way too many pies. Let’s see… how many get a tax break because they pay a mortage? Should they be unable to vote?

    As a Union Carpenter, I work where I work. I don’t often think about where the money comes from when I take the job. I think, “I gotta make the payments this month.”

  11. John Burgess says:

    Roger: Cite, please, for Reagan’s communications with the Iranians pre-election.

    Preferably not a conspiracy cite, but if that’s what you’ve got, I’ll take it.

  12. rpk says:

    I work in a government office and the only persons I know that voted for Obama are both black. While many offices were probably consevative, I understand the government union mentality. Bob

  13. Bobbert says:

    Not to nitpick, but I think you misspelled ‘Targeted’ in the headline.