U.S. EPA's main employee union will head to Capitol Hill next week to present its concerns to top lawmakers and make an appeal for more bipartisan support when it comes to environmental protection.
The American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 says it will urge Congress to take a long look at EPA's funding levels in light of the growth of the agency's statutory duties in recent years and ask it to consider adding more full-time employees to help the agency accomplish its mission.
That will be no small task, especially with House Republican leaders intent on making deep cuts to the agency and some in the party -- including former Speaker and potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- even calling for doing away with EPA altogether.
The challenge will begin Monday morning, when EPA union representatives head to the office of freshman Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), the new chairman of the House Oversight panel's Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy Subcommittee. That meeting is the first of nearly two dozen congressional office visits EPA 238 has already scheduled with members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers through next Thursday.
"With the union, there are probably few, if any, areas of agreement, in all honesty," Ross spokesman Fred Piccolo said. "But if we are going to dismantle the EPA as they know it, the least we can do is hear their concerns and solicit their input for reorganization."
Piccolo noted that Ross' issues with EPA have less to do with labor than with the substance of EPA decisions, adding that the regulatory agency "is clearly out of control."
Things probably won't get any easier from there, as union folks will then head to Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) office and also have tea party champion Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on their docket for Monday.
Later in the week, union officials will meet with Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA. Simpson has promised his panel will be at the center of efforts to battle EPA's plans to regulate greenhouse gases and rein in the agency through the appropriations process.
“Whether or not we agree on the concerns they will bring up, I am more than happy to meet with the EPA union’s members and hear their concerns,” Simpson said in an e-mail. “I fully support the federal pay freeze and will tell them so. I will also be clear with them that the EPA’s budget is going to see a substantial reduction in the House Interior and Environment bill and that will ultimately mean a reduction in the EPA workforce as well. Still, I am interested in hearing their point of view and learning from them how the decisions we make in Congress will impact the agency."
"I don't have the same expectations from this group as I had from the last" Congress, AFGE 238 President Charles Orzehoskie said. "They have historically not been as concerned about things like regulating the environment and the well-being of federal employees; certainly, they haven't been pro-union."
But Orzehoskie plans to show the current House leadership that advocating for the importance of protecting the environment has been as much a Republican issue over the years as a Democratic one.
Included at the top of a packet that union officials plan to distribute next week is a list of quotes by GOP leaders like the late President Ronald Reagan and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) highlighting the importance of protecting natural resources.
"We're going to push for those who are now taking over to understand that environmental issues are very important to the American people and that they have to maintain an adequate funding level for EPA," Orzehoskie said.
In recent months, EPA union and its national AFGE officials have been highly critical of President Obama's two-year federal civilian pay freeze. But as it has become clear that that decision won't be overturned, union officials are turning their attention to a more drastic five-year federal pay freeze being proposed by Republicans.
EPA's union leaders have argued that the government's 1.9 million employees are being unfairly targeted by those proposed cuts and, just as importantly, that those employees represent a minuscule part of the spending pie.
Next week, the union hopes to help Congress understand that if it really wants to cut spending, it should look into the "shadow government" of contractors and grantees, which total about 10 to 11 million employees (E&ENews PM, Dec. 9, 2010).
"We are going to try to stress that federal employees do a lot of good work," Orzehoskie said. "I don't understand how we've gotten a bad rap."
He said he hopes to change that image by meeting with some of the federal work force's biggest critics face to face.
"Maybe they will quit demonizing us if they meet us and realize we don't have horns and tails," he said. "I think a lot of these politicians forget they are government employees, too."