Later On

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Undoing the damage

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It will take a while for the Obama administration to undo the damage from the Bush years, including getting government agencies back to doing the jobs they are supposed to do. From the Washington Post:

When President Obama takes over in January as manager-in-chief of nearly 2 million federal employees, he will need a plan to reinvigorate a frustrated and demoralized workforce, career employees warn.

In numerous agencies, federal civil servants complain that they have been thwarted for months or even years from doing the government jobs they were hired to do. Federal workers have told presidential transition leaders they feel rudderless, their morale impacted by the Bush administration’s opposition to industry regulation, steep budget cuts or the departures many months ago of Bush political appointees. Though they fear publicly identifying themselves, numerous federal workers said in interviews that they are down, but also excited about new leadership.

“Many we talk to are weary, but cautiously optimistic that with this change in administrations they will get to do their job again,” said Jeff Ruch, of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “In the environmental agencies we deal with, they weren’t allowed to do their jobs because the Bush White House operated on a very centralized basis. The rule was, that which the White House doesn’t want to hear shall not be said.”

Federal employees said that they are not a passionately partisan group, but some are hopeful about an Obama presidency, assuming that their lot will improve. Several took heart from Obama’s campaign trail statements that he wanted to make federal government work “cool again.”

John Kamensky, a senior fellow and transition expert at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, said that in tracking the Bush administration’s recent work and searching for any new initiatives, his center noticed the business of government had slowed to a near crawl over the last year.

“We’ve been saying that for a year: the administration checked out early,” Kamensky said. “I am hearing people [civil servants] are demoralized and waiting for some leadership.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said regulatory agencies have a bias in favor of more regulation, and he suspects workers voicing frustrations with the Bush administration’s opposition to excessive regulation are now those clamoring for new leadership. “There’s no support in the surveys for a demoralized workforce,” he said noting that 58 percent reported being satisfied with their agencies and 68 percent with their jobs overall.

Regulatory agencies — including the Departments of Interior and Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Consumer Protection and Safety Agency — have been the hardest hit by morale issues, mainly because of Bush’s anti-regulatory posture, workers and union officials said. Hundreds of federally-employed scientists, researchers and agency lawyers have drafted, studied and restudied regulations that went nowhere.

At EPA, a regional staffer who works on wetlands protection said the agency’s political appointees have stalled and erected roadblocks on work to clean air, water and soil. Headquarters waited a year to advise staff on how to handle a Supreme Court decision that threw wetlands rules into doubt, then issued vague, “useless” guidance, he said.

“There’s been an inability for people to do their jobs and do it well, ” said the staffer, who asked to remain anonymous. “The administration’s purpose has been to do nothing.”

At Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), career scientists were told in 2001 by arriving Bush appointees to stop work on nearly completed regulations to reduce exposure to four well-documented workplace poisons. The new leadership explained that it wanted the office to focus on regulating other workplace hazards, but even then, little progress was made. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2008 at 9:19 am

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