On May 25, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee considered and approved several federal workforce bills, including a bill restricting collective bargaining in the Information Technology (IT) area.
Introduced by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), S. 2975, the “Federal Information Systems Safeguard Act of 2016,” would override the ability of federal unions to engage in bargaining based on the impact and implementation of an agency head’s decision to restrict or prohibit employee access to certain websites that the agency deems to present a security risk to its IT and other information systems. Under current law (Chapter 71 of title 5 United States Code), federal labor organizations can only bargain on behalf of the adversely impacted employees resulting from an agency’s IT decision, and not over the IT action itself. Additionally, current statute provides agencies in an emergency situation with the right to solely engage in post-implementation bargaining. Following the recent massive OPM data breaches, many on Capitol Hill view the overall federal IT environment as vulnerable and are making the argument that any requirement to bargain, no matter how limited in nature, negatively hampers agencies’ cyber posture and ability to immediately ensure a secure IT environment.
As NTEU reported earlier this year, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved and reported out a similar bill, H.R. 4361, introduced by Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL). This measure seeks to provide agency heads the “sole and exclusive authority” over all IT issues and systems, and would limit employee bargaining rights in that area.
NTEU opposes these bills and is working to ensure that our allies on Capitol Hill understand the narrow nature of our current bargaining abilities on IT issues under current law (“impact and implementation”), and to assure unions the ability going forward to address employee access to personal email and the internet, or to access free-standing web-portals in the workplace. Our members are the very individuals who recently suffered the devastating loss of highly personal and private information at the hands of federal agencies, and should now not be left by Congress in a position with no recourse to address basic communication issues, critical to their personal and work lives.
I will keep you updated on congressional developments regarding this important issue. Meanwhile, please share your thoughts on this topic.