Earlier this month, I had the honor of attending the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal Presentation. The awards, referred to as “Sammies,” recognize outstanding federal employees for their dedication, innovation, and contributions to our nation.
One of this year’s nine award recipients was Dr. Alfonso Batres, a Northern Virginia resident. Alfonso spent nearly three decades working with the community-based Department of Veterans Affairs’ Readjustment Counseling Vet Centers. These centers are located in towns across the country to assist veterans traumatized by combat through counseling services, job assistance, and medical referrals. In the past six years, Alfonso grew the number of Vet Centers from 200 to 300 nationwide-and he oversaw development of 50 Mobile Vet Centers.
Alfonso and the other Sammie recipients represent the best our civil service has to offer. The event is a yearly reminder that the U.S. federal workforce is the greatest civil service in the world, providing critical support and services for all Americans.
Unfortunately, the service of Alfonso and so many other dedicated federal employees is lost on many of the new voices in Congress, who have been vocal opponents of public sector employees. Our nation is facing tough decisions to address our long-term deficits, and in recent years federal workers have often been the first to shoulder the burden of program cuts and spending freezes. Trying to balance the budget solely on the backs of civil servants is mean-spirited and cannot be achieved – not even close.
There are ways we can strengthen our federal service and do so at virtually no cost. Last week, I introduced the “Federal Employees Leave Transfer Act of 2011” to allow federal employees to voluntarily transfer any unused sick leave to an agency-wide leave bank to be used by employees in need of leave due to extenuating medical circumstances.
Most government agencies allow employees to donate their unused vacation days to leave banks – but only one, the FAA, allows donations of sick leave. Last year my legislation, H.R. 958, was signed into law allowing FERS employees to apply accrued sick leave towards their retirement annuity calculation. But this same leave cannot be put to use helping federal employees in treatment for life-threatening illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.
Policies in place require employees nearing retirement to “use or lose” any remaining sick leave outside of what cannot be applied to their length of service. This practice once led to an estimated $68 million in annual lost productivity. The Federal Employees Leave Transfer Act of 2011 would provide a further incentive for the accrual of sick leave.
This idea works. In FY’10, FAA employees donated over 22,000 hours of sick leave alone. The success of their efforts and those in the private sector should be replicated throughout all federal agencies.