By Jackie Kucinich - 05/23/06 12:00 AM EDT
The ranking member of the House Administration committee introduced legislation last week that would give 59 Congressional Research Service (CRS) employees who were fired last year access to privileges extended only to employees of the executive branch.
The Library of Congress, which oversees the CRS, told the employees in September that their jobs would be eliminated within a year. The bill introduced May 16 by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) would let them compete for positions in the executive branch that are the same pay rate and rank of their current positions.
Currently, employees of the legislative branch do not retain seniority if they apply for jobs in the executive branch, according to Denise Mixon, a spokeswoman for Millender-McDonald.
In addition, the bill would give the CRS employees access to a program administered by the executive branch’s Office of Personnel Management that provides a special selection process and priority for employees facing a mass layoff known as a reduction in force.
Millender-McDonald said in the release that the privileges have been extended to other branches of government in the past.
“In 1990, Congress enacted similar legislation granting competitive status to employees of the judicial branch,” Millender-McDonald said in her release. “It made sense then for employees of the federal courts, and it makes sense for the employees of the Library of Congress today.”
Millender-McDonald met with several of the 59 production-support and audiovisual employees this year who are affected by the layoffs and was told that “CRS management has placed little emphasis on training and professional development which would offer opportunities for advancement,” she said in the release.
She criticized the library, saying it has a history of racial discrimination, and indicated that many people inside and outside the library were concerned that the majority of the affected employees are minorities.
“This is a culture I have seen [at CRS and the library] since I have been in this position — once you have talented, very seasoned employees they are dumped,” Millender-McDonald told The Hill. “This bill gives opportunity for jobs inside the federal government – we can’t let another rash of employees out from [CRS] come up against this practice.”
The library has defended the layoffs as a difficult but sound business practice and said that employees were given a year to find new jobs.
On March 2, CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan defended the agency’s decision during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, explaining to appropriators that the CRS extended several courtesies to the employees, including announcing the changes a year in advance and offering them early retirement benefits as well as career counseling.
“There is not another agency that I know of that has given staff a year to find another job,” he added.
Millender-McDonald indicated that if acting Administration Committee Chariman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) had not been familiarized with the legislation by staff she would bring the bill up with him this week. A Millender-McDonald spokeswoman said the majority staff had received a copy of the bill.
Jon Brandt, a spokesman for Ehlers, declined to comment and explained that the majority staff had not had an opportunity to review the legislation yet.
A spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did not return a request for comment by press time.
The bill has three other co-sponsors, including Del. Eleanor Holmes (D-D.C.), who serves on the House Government Reform Committee. A second committee bill has also been referred.
Neither a spokesman for the government-reform panel’s majority nor minority office returned a call for comment.
Dennis Roth, the president of the Congressional Research Employees Association (CREA), the employees’ union, praised Millender-McDonald for her work on the issue and said the group would support the legislation.
“We strongly support her efforts to support people whose positions have been abolished,” he said.
He added, “We also share the congresswoman’s concerns about how the decision was reached, and we hope she continues to press for copies of the studies that led CRS management to this decision.”
In October, CREA accused Mulhollan of withholding internal surveys that the union says he has mentioned to them and that allegedly state that the production staff members should be fired because they lack advanced technical skills.
Roth said he expects their international union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, to issue a release in support of the legislation in the next few days.