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Start date set for arbitration between the U.S. Postal Service and rural letter carriers union

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A three-member arbitration panel will begin hearings Dec. 5 on a new contract between the U.S. Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, according to a posting on the union’s web site.

The panel’s neutral member will be Jack Clarke, a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators and a veteran of the NRLCA-USPS southern area arbitration panel, the posting said. The union has named Joey Johnson, its director of labor relations, to the panel while the Postal Service has appointed Robert Dufek, its manager for labor relations strategies.

The first round of hearings will go through Dec. 8, according to the Postal Service, while additional sessions could continue into April if needed.  The hearings will kick off more than a year after an impasse was declared last November in contract negotiations between the two sides. They nonetheless continued to talk for months after that, only deciding this summer to take the plunge to arbitration.

The hearings will alternate between USPS headquarters in Washington and the union’s headquarters in nearby northern Virginia, a Postal Service spokeswoman said.



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OMB review follows report of excessive DOJ pastry spending

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Go figure: The humble muffin has become a government change agent.

In what is probably the first-ever Office of Management and Budget directive with a connection to overpriced baked goods, Director Jack Lew is ordering agencies to take stock of their conference spending and report back by Nov. 1.

The impetus, of course, is that newly released report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that uncovered numerous examples of questionable expenses at DOJ conferences from October 2007 through September 2009. What really caught the attention of politicians and the media, however, was the finding that muffins at one Washington gathering cost more than $16 each.

No matter that the hotel in question furnished the iced tea and coffee free of charge; this is not the message that a focused-on-efficiency administration wants to convey. In today’s memo, Lew, while not singling out specific instances, cites the IG report as a reminder of “how important it is that agencies undertake all due diligence to protect taxpayer resources from unnecessary expenditures.”

Under orders from President Obama, he continues, agencies must now conduct “a thorough review” of policies and controls related to conference activities and spending. (In the meantime, all such expenses have to be cleared at the deputy secretary level or the equivalent.) OMB will compile the results for Vice President Joe Biden,  who will have them on the agenda of a December meeting of agency heads tied to the administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste.

No word on whether pastries will be served.


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Feds Feed Families collects record-smashing 5.8M pounds

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Left to right, Defense CHCO Pat Tamburrino, USDA CHCO Billy Milton, CHCO Council Director Kathryn Medina, OPM Director John Berry, Capital Area Food Bank CEO Lynn Brantley, Energy CHCO Mike Kane, and Energy Deputy CHCO Rita Franklin (Photo courtesy of OPM)

Here’s an impressive stat: Federal employees this summer collected nearly 5.8 million pounds of food for the Feds Feed Families program. That’s well more than triple the amount donated last year.

Last summer, feds donated 1.7 million pounds of food, and in 2009, the program’s first year, they donated 1 million pounds.

The government hoped to collect 2 million pounds this year. But the Defense Department employees alone donated slightly more than that, and the Agriculture Department raised almost 1.8 million pounds.

“Feds Feed Families was a resounding success,” Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said. “This is just one more reminder of the generosity of federal employees. Over the last few decades, federal employees have given billions of dollars to charity, and they always deliver when called to action.”

The nonperishable food items will be donated to food banks nationwide.

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U.S. Postal Service proceeds with proposed mail delivery changes

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It’s official: the U.S. Postal Service is out with a Federal Register notice today on proposed changes to mail  delivery standards tied to its plans for closing several hundred processing plants with a loss of some 35,000 career jobs.

The notice adds detail to what USPS officials have already revealed; of particular interest to postal workers, the notice (in a footnote) says that the downsizing plans should not affect network distribution centers, air mail centers, remote encoding centers and international service centers, although those facilities are a small minority of the total.

The 30-day public comment period runs through Oct. 21.



Paying more for your pension: What do you think?

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(Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)

President Obama’s proposal to hike the amount federal employees pay into their pensions by 1.2 percent struck a nerve. In the latest reaction, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley today sent a letter to the super committee on deficit reduction calling those changes “ill-advised and inequitable,” and said they would lead to “an exodus of our most highly-trained and experienced workers.”

What do you think about the proposals? Sound off below, or e-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com. We’d like to hear your thoughts on this potential major change to federal employees’ benefits.

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U.S. Postal Service financial crisis: Little agreement, but lots of commotion

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All of a sudden, federal policymakers have noticed that the U.S. Postal Service is staggering toward financial collapse. There’s little consensus on a solution, but the ensuing attention is generating plenty of news. Here’s a recap of major developments just on Monday:

1)       The Obama administration publicly outlined one approach for putting the Postal Service back in the black (check out p. 23 of the pdf).

2)       A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee scheduled a Wednesday vote on legislation by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,  offering an opposing strategy.

3)       Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., and 74 other lawmakers released a letter to Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Goldway, objecting to USPS plans for the possible closing of thousands of post offices.

4)       The American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union announced the second round of a national television ad campaign with a commercial that faults Congress for the Postal Service’s financial mess.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service continued to deliver the mail and to lose money. Anything we missed?

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White House: Streamline prescription drug contracting

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The White House has also tucked a proposal into its $3 trillion deficit reduction proposal to overhaul how the government buys prescription drugs for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. On page 43 of its report, the administration calls for allowing the Office of Personnel Management to contract directly with pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, for prescription drugs. PBMs are companies that negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of FEHBP’s insurance providers. But PBMs are not considered subcontractors, and as a result, OPM has little oversight of them and cannot be sure they pass on rebates (of as much as 50 percent of the drugs’ retail cost) to FEHBP enrollees.

The White House says the current “fragmented strategy [using PBMs] does not take full advantage of the combined purchasing power of the nearly eight million enrollees in the FEHB program.” It projects the move would save $1.6 billion over a decade.

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Congressional mark-up set for postal bill

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The White House is supposed to release its plan for rescuing the U.S. Postal Service this morning, but–perhaps not so coincidentally–Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., isn’t waiting.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, today announced a subcommittee mark-up Wednesday afternoon on his bill that would allow the Postal Service to end Saturday delivery, but would also put the mail carrier under the control of a specially appointed commission if it misses any payment to the federal government—such as the legally required $5.5 billion retiree health care prepayment due at the end of this month. That commission could override Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and also breach union contracts in the interest of putting the agency back in the black.

Not surprisingly, Issa’s bill has gotten a lukewarm reception from the Postal Service and is fiercely opposed by postal unions. Nonetheless, Wednesday’s session will mark the first attempt this year to advance any major postal legislation beyond the talking stage.

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Colbert unveils ‘Farewell to Postage’ stamp

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Colbert's commemorative "Farewell to Postage" postage. (from colbertnation.com)

Stephen Colbert summed up the dilemma facing the U.S. Postal Service beautifully in this Wednesday night segment: “The survival of the Postal Service depends on swift congressional action … goodbye.”

Besides laying into Ben Franklin and the Forever Stamp, Colbert also announced his own line of custom stamps tweaking the Postal Service. (Though some in the agency would probably call it kicking them while they’re down.)

One talking head in the first video lets loose with the head-slapping inaccuracy that the Postal Service is funded with taxpayer dollars (its money actually comes from stamp revenue and other products it sells). But the second video — featuring an interview with former letter carrier and author Phil Rubio — is informative, and Rubio delivers a thoughtful defense of the Postal Service’s universal service mandate.

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Coffman introduces bill striking congressional pensions

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Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., today introduced his promised bill to cancel lawmakers’ future defined benefit pensions. HR 2913 wouldn’t touch any pension benefits accrued before its passage — or Social Security or Thrift Savings Plan benefits — but going forward, no current lawmaker would be able to add to the value of his pension, and future new lawmakers would get no pension whatsoever.

Coffman said that lawmakers who ask others to sacrifice must shoulder some of the burden:

These are extremely difficult economic times and we are in a debt crisis that will require sacrifices on the part of all Americans. Congress needs to set an example for the country and I believe that ending our pension plan would be a good start.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association opposes Coffman’s bill, and worries it could be the first step on a “slippery slope” towards doing away with rank-and-file feds’ pensions.

Lawmakers receive better benefits than federal employees, as we detailed Monday in this story.

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