The mood for reform could affect work force


WASHINGTON -- Capitol Hill is in a reform-oriented mood these days, and members of Congress already have introduced dozens of bills, including many that could directly affect federal employees.

Much of the legislation has been seen in the past in one permutation or another.

Some bills -- changing the Hatch Act, for example -- are enthusiastically supported by most federal workers, while others, such as a bill to institute random drug testing, are bound to encounter opposition from federal employee unions and other advocates.

Here are summaries of some of the bills that federal workers will want to keep an eye on in the 103rd Congress.

* The Federal Employees' Political Activities Act of 1993 was introduced by Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee. As Clay's bill, it will be a high priority of the committee.

The bill would reverse provisions of the Hatch Act that prevent federal employees from participating in political activities such as campaigning. At the same time, it contains language "to protect such employees from improper political solicitations" -- this for the benefit of lawmakers who are concerned that workers will be coerced into political participation by their superiors.

A similar Hatch Act bill breezed through the 101st Congress, but was vetoed by President Bush. Bill Clinton has promised to sign the bill, and federal worker advocates are hopeful that it will see daylight fairly early in the session.

"That one we ought to get," said Nick Nolan, executive director of the Federal Government Service Task Force.

* The Federal Employees Health Benefits Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., would, among other things, "replace the current 13 fee-for-service options with a single two-option plan" including standard and high options. The plan would be managed by OPM and a new FEHB board.

Ackerman aide Bob Levi is billing the plan as "an excellent laboratory to test the concept of managed competition." Some policy-makers, including Bill Clinton, believe that a system of managed competition could solve the country's health-care problems.

Under the Ackerman bill, insurance companies would have to compete for the right to insure federal employees in different geographical regions, and doctors and hospitals also would have to compete to participate in the plan. This "two-dimensional" competition should keep costs down enough so that no additional money will be spent, said Levi.

Ackerman will have to convince his colleagues that the bill won't cost anything; otherwise it will have no chance of passage because it would violate the budget law, which caps federal spending.

* The Government Organization and Employees Amendment, introduced by Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, would give all temporary employees FEHB coverage if they have worked for at least one year of the preceding two years.

"I have individuals in my district who have worked for the federal government for 10 years on temporary status," Mink said in introducing the bill. "This is absurd. These people work the same hours as permanent employees, have the same responsibilities as permanent employees, and yet they are denied health care coverage."

She introduced similar legislation last year.

* Clay, chairman of the civil service committee, also has introduced the Federal and Postal Service Employees Occupational Safety and Health Act. This bill would "strengthen the authority to require safe work places for federal and postal service employees."

* Rep. Cardiss Collins, D-Ill., has introduced a bill that would give the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more power to make agencies comply with civil rights law. It also would allow the commission to summon the head of an agency for questioning if that agency fails to develop a plan for dealing with discrimination.

* Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., wants to require random drug testing of federal employees, as well as drug tests of all applicants for federal jobs. Solomon has introduced similar bills in the past, but a staffer admitted openly that the two measures won't go anywhere until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of drug testing on people who aren't in security-sensitive or dangerous jobs.

"We're pushing to make it happen because we want courts to take it up," said the staffer, explaining why the legislation was introduced this year.

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