WASHINGTON -- Thousands of federal workers will gather in Chicago next week for a convention held by the nation's largest government employee union.
At the weeklong event, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will elect officers, vote on dues, draft legislative goals and talk political strategy for the future. Nearly 1,500 delegates are expected to participate in the event, which is held every three years.
"The discussion topics will run the gamut," said AFGE spokeswoman Diane Witiak. "There's going to be a lot of talk about deficit reduction and not taking it out on federal employees. And health care is also going to be a big issue."
If the Clinton administration starts to take some heat from federal employees, the executive branch will get a chance to defend itself. Vice President Al Gore and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros are scheduled to deliver speeches on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
The event also is aimed at boosting morale and bolstering support for the union. On the schedule is a country music theme party where federal workers can line dance if they donate $25 to AFGE's political action committee.
Later in the week, union members can feast at a banquet featuring 1950s music, including an appearance by the group that sings the federal worker favorite, "Please Mr. Postman." And there's more -- a song written for the union called "AFGE and Me," which comes with a music video.
Back in the nation's capital, federal worker advocates remain concerned over possible cuts in government employee benefits.
Backers of the "A to Z" budget slashing initiative -- which could include entitlement cuts opposed by government unions -- announced last week that they will try to make the concept a part of every U.S. House election across the country.
Reps. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., and Bill Zeliff, R-N.H. -- the "A" and "Z" of "A to Z" -- said at a Capitol Hill press conference they would begin issuing "pledge cards" to incumbents and challengers on their budget cutting proposal and let the voters decide. The lawmakers turned to this plan after their attempts to bring the idea to the House floor for a vote were unsuccessful.
"A to Z" proposes opening the federal budget up for 56 hours of debate on line-by-line cuts in an effort to rein in the national debt. Possible budget cuts include a higher retirement age for federal employees and a tighter formula for increases in cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) to government workers.
While the proposal, devised last summer, has languished in committee, backers ran a discharge petition drive but ran out of gas with 204 members on board. The petition needs 218 signatures to be brought to the floor of the House for a vote.
Mr. Zeliff said he wouldn't give up on winning the needed 14 more signatures this year, but Mr. Andrews was already talking about next year and the 104th Congress.
Mr. Andrews blamed the House Democratic leadership, special interests, "and others who feed at the federal trough" for the problems, but said he had no plans to forfeit the fight.
"They can delay it, but they can't deny it," Mr. Andrews said, vowing to reintroduce the bill on the first day of next year's session.
The congressmen said they would issue the pledge cards this fall to House candidates.
"We're going to take the 'A to Z' campaign to the people," Mr. Andrews said.
"The voters are going to create a storm that's a lot greater than what we're seeing right now," added Mr. Zeliff.
The U.S. Census Bureau has entered cyberspace.
The agency is promoting the "Population Clock," a new electronic tally offering "up-to-the-minute" national population counts.
To access the data, interested hackers must hop on the federal agency's site on the Internet, choose "Directory of Services and Information" (menu item 3), hit "Population" (item 13) and then click on "Popclock Projection" (item 4).
For more information, send an e-mail message to piensus.gov or call the Census Bureau at (301) 763-4040.