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November 5, 2013

Table of contents

Approval of July 17, 2013 minutes (5 minutes)

Updates (60 minutes)

  • Budget Update – Hari Sastry
  • Performance Awards for Fiscal Year 2013– Valerie Smith 
  • Same Sex Married Spouses– Valerie Smith 
  • Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey – Valerie Revelez
  • Risk Clarity – Ivonne Cunarro
  • B1 Pilot on Travel – Update on Cost Savings (Frank Milman) 

Potential New Project – (10 minutes)

  • Communications – (Howard Friedman)

To start a pilot project to assess ways, particularly non-traditional, of engaging the next generation of Federal employees in public service

New Business (20 minutes)

  • Possible Agenda Items for Next Forum 

Other Business (5 minutes)
CALL IN NUMBER 866-453-8771; PASS CODE 2785164

Meeting Minutes

On November 5, 2013, the Department of Commerce Labor-Management Forum met in the Herbert C. Hoover Building, Washington, DC, Room 4830. This meeting date was rescheduled from October 16, 2013 due to the government shutdown. The meeting started at 2:00 PM and concluded at 4:30 PM. A quorum was present

The members approved the minutes of the July 17, 2013, Labor-Management Forum Training session.

Ellen Herbst, Management Co-Chair called the meeting to order and attendees introduced themselves.

Dan Sobien, Labor Co-Chair – Expressed concern and disappointment that the rescheduling of the meeting was not a collaborative effort.

Ellen Herbst – Acknowledged Mr. Sobien’s comment, and stated that in the future hopefully we won’t have to reschedule meetings.


Budget Update – Michael Phelps, Director, Office of Budget

Michael Phelps presented the update in the absence of Hari Sastry. He stated that we are operating under a 107 days continuing resolution (CR) which ends January 15, 2014. Looking at 2.2 billion during the 107 day period. The big issue is the two satellite programs that were called out in the CR language. Everything else is business as usual as far as operating cash. There are no issues of meeting payroll during the 107 period. There is adequate language in the CR that gives the department authority to reprogram funds if need be, but see no problems. It’s pretty clear that we’re not going to get a grand deal in 2014, but hoping for topline agreement for 2014 that gets us out of sequester for FY14, and FY15, and good numbers for 2015. If budget committee can do that we’ll be in good shape. Budget committee is due to report out on Friday, Dec. 13th. CR runs out on January 15. If talks break down, and nothing is done with the law, we are looking at round 2 of the sequester for 2014. OMB is currently pricing out current CR in terms of sequester. Working with Treasury to see what receipts come in. As far as a gauge of how sequester will look like in FY14, will have to talk with your CFO’s or look at house mark. House mark 967 billion which is topline mark; operating around 986 of the topline. More positive approach and hope for better out of budget committee. OMB put questions from agency on hold

Dan Sobien – Is the Department working with NOAA on an apportionment issue? 

Michel Phelps – No there is no apportionment issues between the Department and NOAA. The Department will apportion to NOAA and they allot to line offices. Working with them on additional funding that concerns satellite operations. Day to day operations are ok.

Dan Sobien – In a different meeting, a term “graves amendment” came up. Do you know what that is?

Brian Digiacomo – The “graves amendment” takes away healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, but it wasn’t part of the bill that passed. Impacted legislative employees, and some politicals in the executive branch. 

Ellen Herbst – Do you want to say anything about the debt ceiling?

Michael Phelps – The debt ceiling is February 7, and we will revisit again as budget committee reports out. 

Ellen Herbst – If I can read a little more into Dan’s question, sequestration is a 10 year law. It’s on a slope, and other agencies have bigger slopes like DOD. We’re on 2 percent slope. Other agencies will take bigger hits. Target date is December 13 to get topline agreement done. Then go to appropriations committees and divided.

Michael Phelps – There is a projection in terms of budget cap ceilings from 2013 to 2020. Terms of security, non-security or domestic and defense. Relief on sequester for 2014 and 2015 and address 2016 at a letter date. 

Laurie Schwede – Does it look like a 2 percent reduction?

Dan Sobien – Will it be 5 a percent cut?

Michael Phelps – No, there will not be a 5% reduction as associated with the sequester. We are looking at the budget caps associated with the Budget Control Act and House mark which gets us around the minus 2% reduction. But 2% cut varies based on what comes out of OMB.

Howard Friedman – One thing that is in play is employee contribution into their pension. Doing all we can not to pay more money towards pensions. That is a topic/negotiating point that will affect everyone. High in equation. Another issue is the more a party restores money to defense, the tax on discretionary spending on other agencies. If DOD can’t take the defense cuts, how will that impact Domestic agencies?

Michael Phelps – Can’t do that under the law.

Howard Friedman – Could impact discretionary funding.

Michael Phelps – Not seeing signs of that on the Hill. Not seeing where they would relieve defense and drive the other side.

Performance Awards for Fiscal Year 2013 

Valerie Smith – This is for informational purposes because it doesn’t impact bargaining units. Awards guidance was issued November 1, from OPM/OMB for FY13 awards paid out in FY2014. Guidance sent out on November 4, 2013 to bureaus. Guidance doesn’t override or impact any agreements already in place. Exactly how we did it last year, 1 percent of aggregate salaries, using the same pay period as before (pp 18). We are encouraging prudence in spending because of uncertainty of 2014 budget. 

Same Sex Married Spouses 

Valerie Smith – Department extends all benefits that we legally can and/or are required to same sex spouses. We have provided guidance, Q&As, broadcast messages, etc. to get ensure the message is communicated to all employees. 

Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey 

Valerie Revelez – 2013 FEV results. The survey is annual and generally conducted between April 23 to June 7. A little over 9,000 DOC employees responded. OPM released results officially on Thursday November 7, 2013. The Department will release the information. Detailed results will be available on OHRM website. All bureau POCs have access to the results. Emails to POCs highlighting results. DOC is required to be public per 5 CFR 250.

Dan Sobien – I think it’s wonderful that DOC posts the results, but numerous requests from NOAA resulted in never getting results from the survey. 

Laurie Schwede – I participated in the survey last year and the questions about the supervisor were about the 1st level supervisor. Expressed concern that questions about supervisors relate to one above respondent or higher. 

Ellen Herbst – This has been a challenge. Who is senior leadership in the mind of person who is asking the question? We brought this up to OPM. I don’t want to discourage you all from bringing it up again. This is a challenge year in and year out when answering or trying to interpret results. It is difficult to determine where you have issues that you want to work on. Census has weighed in to OPM as far as quality of questions without impact. Go at it again if there is energy from the Forum.

Laurie Schwede – I’m concerned as a survey methodologist; definitely room for improvement in the quality of survey.

Valerie Revelez – The survey hasn’t been changed much in the past couple years, even though we have made suggestions to OPM.

Action Item – Have a group draft guidance and suggestions to OPM.

Randy Myers – Child care and elder care—no significance based on fact that it doesn’t apply to everyone.

Valerie Revelez – OPM revised the survey and the results changed, went from low score to 80’s.

Ken Kukovich – The more fundamental question about the process—management gets the level of detail before it’s turned over to employees. Labor should get the same amount of time as management to analyze the responses.

Ellen Herbst – The official results were just released, but take the point. What do you recommend?

Ken Kukovich – To get the reports the same time as management with the same level of detail; transparent process. We have to dig and keep asking what it is we are trying to accomplish with this. What is the purpose of it if not to make some plan to make it better for employees? What do you do to improve employee moral which effects employee productivity. Don’t know what the Forum could do except to encourage management to release info to labor.

Dan Sobien – Am I to assume that the Department level gets the information on all bureaus?

Robert Budens – The Department tends to let the bureaus decide how to disseminate information. Maybe the Department should at least encourage bureaus to give information as soon as they get it. Many times its’ not getting released or it’s like taking a trip to the dentist to get it released.

Howard Friedman – I think we can go even further. I think this is a National Council issue. All of the unions from all of the agencies should see this at the same time. Every year OPM makes a big deal about it and it’s disingenuous to not give the results to labor and employees. We should do what others have talked about, but should start at the top so everyone can see it. 

Robert Budens – It’s difficult to encourage members to complete the survey.

Dan Sobien – I agree with Howard.

Howard Friedman – To make amends, can you at least give us a few tidbits? 

Valerie Revelez – Passed out the first page of online posting, emailing a copy to the Forum. Overall the Department has ranked above Government average on most items; 38 strengths; 2 considered challenges—resources to get job done and pay raises dependent on how well perform jobs. Indices increased; in top 10; best is employee engagement; improved in ranking. 

Ellen Herbst –In a meeting with OPM last week, they said the survey scores overall were lower. The survey was taken right after sequestration last year. Not sure if really improving or getting less bad than everyone else.

Howard Friedman – Last year everyone was given the opportunity to respond, and this year we didn’t. Not comparing apples to apples when talking about 2% below. How does it compare to other departments?

Valerie Revelez – Our score is pretty high; above Government as well.

Ken Kukovich – This is nice information, but it means nothing. It’s only the detail information that means anything.

Recommendation – DOC release survey results to Labor at the same time as bureaus ; OPM release to the National Council level .

Recommendation - a letter signed by Council Co-chairs to the National Council and let them know that we are going to do the same as what we’re asking them to do.

Risk Clarity

Ellen Herbst – Introduced special guests. Explained the SESCDP program is an 18 month program, which includes an Action Learning Project. Kevin Mahoney put together a Risk Clarity proposal that was accepted by the workgroup .

The members of the team included Ivonne Cunarro, MBDA (Team Lead), not present; Suzanne Hermitage from DOE/OIG; Alton Cheaves from DOD; Benjamin Bergersen assignment to Max.gov at OMB; NOAA, BIS (2), and EDA. The team conducted a review of program. Documented areas of improvement, best practices, recommendation of process, objectives. Risk clarity survey developed and implemented by 3rd party. Survey revealed 3 issues-lack of awareness among employees about misconduct and reporting it, fear of retaliation, perception that no action would be taken if misconduct is reported. Addressed results—develop products-revised existing DAO (sexual harassment); created a new DAO to address process. Develop employee orientation for new hires and managers; develop FAQ’s.

Ben Bergeson – Project methodology—existing data reviewed; risk clarity survey; articles; academic studies; interview multiple government agencies; interview organizations in and out of Commerce including OIG and HR offices; id’s 5 best practices. Organizational culture matters; what we do at top matters most; also what takes the longest to go through. Process matters—elements within are that policies/procedures must be clear and straightforward; single point of intake not multiple points of intake. Accountability—all employees held accountable to report what they know and think happened. Managers held to a higher standard; annual training important and closing loop with employees important. Communication and resources.

Alton Cheaves – 5/6 takeaways, senior leadership buy-in is required to effect change, all reports should be taken seriously, filing complaints should be seamless, Department should be as transparent as possible, establish processes and procedures from inception to final outcome. 

Ellen Herbst – Follow up to Whistle Blower Protection Act. One thing working on is additional training out of OIG office and onboarding training, also training for managers on how to handle complaints

Bill Hopkins – How do you tackle manager who abuses employee?

Ellen Herbst – Employees have an alternative to going to supervisor or manager, they can go to OIG. One thing that came out was the high number of people who knew of IG complaint hotline. 

Robert Budens – Did you feel like other places had effective whistle blower protections? Employees still worried about retaliation. Did you actually get a sense that organizations had effective programs and dealt with retaliation?

Risk Clarity Team – The LAPD has most effective program. They had many false starts but implemented protections. Benefit from state laws. Others that if individual failed to report or retaliated then immediate investigation.

Ken Kukovich – Did you look at outside programs?

Alton Cheaves – Looked at OSC.

Ken Kukovich – Totally outside federal government?

Robert Budens – Did you look at any other totally independent autonomous organizations?

Ben Bergersen – LAPD was the closest to an independent organization. They created a whole group to deal with these issues.

Ellen Herbst – Who did the newly formed group report to? Directly to the commission; had strength and independence?

Ben Bergersen – The Commissioner.

B1 Pilot on Travel 

Frank Milman – In previous meetings, the Forum requested to know how well the project was going. Target for FY12 was quarter million dollars; but cuts in travel budgets impacted that. Department did not meet goal but did save over $163K. 

Ellen Herbst – Savings targets in number of areas; finding reductions in spending in certain categories above and beyond expectations.

Potential New Project 


Howard Friedman – The purpose is to make a recommendation to the Forum as a follow up to the training held in July. Kevin and I put this together. How to attract, retain, and manage federal workforce

Options to kick start:

  • Recommendation to implement pilot program of non-traditional ways to engage next generation of employees. Increase hiring flexibilities, rotational assignments; mentoring; training; opportunity to work in different bureaus; social media. 
  • Need to think about division of labor focus attracting or keeping or both.
  • Options—survey young people; survey PTO employees.
  • Down road work with schools/universities; business/people that do business with the organization.
  • First thing is affirmation that should do pilot program then how to go about implementing it. 
  • Here is how we do helps you-branding/marketing.
  • Have many who have technical background.

Renee Stone – At what level are you talking about? Dan and I have had numerous conversations about NOAA branding. DOC is a hard one to brand.

Howard Friedman – It’s hard for the reasons you said, but DOC variety is part of the branding and marketing. A variety of things that can attract different people. 

Robert Budens – What makes DOC so impressive is that what DOC does touches individuals every day. 

Ellen Herbst – The branding idea is a means to an end of attracting and retaining. There are 2 levels; 1) Attract people to Federal government, 2) Attract people to DOC. 

Ellen Herbst – If this is an area we want to work on as Forum, how do we get ideas going forward?

Robert Budens – No management to take the lead.

Howard Friedman – I volunteer for labor.

Ellen Herbst – Someone in Kevin’s organization can take the lead. 

Bill Hopkins – We need to keep the meeting going.

Dan Sobien – It seems like there is a tremendous opportunity to do this but I don’t know how.

Ellen Herbst – We need to get at what we’re trying to achieve and how were going to get there. We need to get to actionable items. It needs a focused work group. 

Howard Friedman – I don’t want to lose site that it’s being raised and developed here; both parties will have to commit to it.

Fred Stephens – Mentioned a series of items that could be attractive for the next generation. We have a high percentage of workforce eligible to retire; we have as many people leaving as coming. This is a worthwhile project. 

Howard Friedman – Because this is a huge project and everyone is busy, would this group be amendable to have non-forum members participate, especially the young people? I want to make sure everyone is o.k. with this.

Dan Sobien – We would have to work out the official time thing. I think it’s a great idea.

Ellen Herbst – We have to get young people involved. Concerned about the dip we have in demographics.

Dan Sobien – I just want a timeline of your expectations?

Howard Friedman – I don’t want to speak for Kevin since he’s not here. I want to work as quickly as possible. I’m very interested in hearing what management comes up with.

Ellen Herbst – Do you have an affinity group for 1st and 2nd years?

Bruce Kisliuk – We get the younger people together and ask them what brought you here and what is keeping you here and get their ideas.

Howard Friedman – Set up focus groups, bring young people from bureaus.

Robert Budens – Don’t lose sight of promoting Federal work and that we are not their enemy.

Ken Kukovich – I’d like to get exit survey results.

Ellen Herbst – I think we can get information on why people are leaving through retirement. Non-retirement attrition we need to look at. 

New Business 

Potential B1 project

Robert Budens – Laurie has potential B1 project

Laurie Schwede – Proposal fits into all concerns. Phased retirements. Passed in 2012. OPM put out preliminary regulations and is working on the final regulations. Involves retirement eligible employees to enter into voluntary program for defined period of time under a special agreement where they work part time and get half of retirement benefits. Advantage is training younger employees; cuts payroll costs; advantage to employee- opportunity to gradually go into retirement.

Recommendation - Laurie Schwede – B1 Pilot once the regulations come out, the policy group would put together the entire policy and because there is a cost savings element, we could measure it.

• Forum agreed to have Laure Schwede a member of the Policy Partnership Workgroup to write the phased retirement policy.

Concern with OIG

Robert Budens – Had an employee working under the Hoteling program. Works out of Chicago, doesn’t have to come into the office. OIG contacted the employee and set up a meeting. This doesn’t give the union the ability to fly out to Chicago. Employee should have been brought back to Alexandria where a union rep could participate. Union rep called in. The thought is that if we have contractual things in place the IG should honor the agreements. I’m raising this here to see if you can say anything. If this is how it’s going to play out, we’ll have to tell our employees that they are at risk of this if they telework. 

Ellen Herbst – OIG has independence. Will follow up and see if there’s anything we can do. There may be no satisfaction for you in this.

Randy Myers – I question the importance of this needing to be conducted in one day? I don’t see the great urgency that was placed on this.

Changes in Forum Members

Robert Budens –. This is Randy’s last meeting. Want to thank him for all his service.

Cynthia Vaughan – Announced her leaving the Department as well and that this was her last meeting. 

Summary of Action/Recommendations

Have group draft guidance and suggestions for the Employee Viewpoint Survey and submit them to OPM. Draft memo for Dan and Ellen to sign to the National Council encouraging all agencies to release the Employee Viewpoint Survey to labor, and to let them know that is what Commerce is doing. Also, engage the National Council in changing the survey.

Howard Friedman – Brief Kevin and put together a team to explore the project on how to attract, retain the next generation. 

Laurie Schwede – Have the Policy Partnership Workgroup draft the policy on Phased Retirement once the final regulations are issued.