DALE CABANISS: RESTOCKING THE SWAMP
Our Commander-in-Chief (aka The Swamp Master) is about to release another invasive, slithering marauder into his swamp. The mere mention of her name calls to mind such environmentally destructive forces as Dutch Elm disease, feral pigs, and the Northern snakehead. She is Dale Cabaniss, and Trump wants to put her in charge of the federal merit, retirement and insurance systems atop OPM.
Dale used to chair the FLRA under George W. Bush until she resigned after release of a very embarrassing publication about how she had trashed that rather well-regarded agency. Before she sat as chair, the federal courts upheld FLRA decisions about 90% of the time, but under her leadership the courts ruled that less than half of the FLRA substantive decisions over time were correct. Moreover, the judges regularly slammed her theories with unusually harsh words, calling them, “completely backwards,” “totally inconsistent,” etc. Dale’s view of the world was that she is there to change the law Congress wrote into labor law according to Dale. So much for her respect for the law.
But her destructiveness did not end there. She also had a talent for wasting federal funds on friends. Dale approved hiring very, very unqualified people for top-salary federal jobs. She hired someone at a GS-15, Step 10 level to work at the top level of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) who had spent her career years marketing fresh produce and meats. Dale gave her the Step 10 under a little used OPM rule that permits people to be hired at the top step of a grade if they have “superior qualifications” for the position. If you are wondering what produce and meats have to do with understanding federal sector labor, employment and personnel law as well as the dynamics of labor-management relationships—so are we. The person’s only job was apparently to watch over the FSIP staff and report back to Dale and her politically appointed colleagues any suspicious behavior. In Russia they call that an Apparatchik. Here was call it a “Friend of Dale’s.”
A look at Dale’s efficiency shows the same sad story. Soon after she resigned, the new leadership was closing three times the number of cases a year as she did. Another important measure of the Authority’s efficiency is how often it issues a decision within 180 days of it being assigned to one of the three members to process. Team Cabaniss managed to hit the mark about 5% of the time while under Carol Pope’s chairmanship, the FLRA met that deadline 75% of the time. And then there is the matter of her own Inspector General who could not seem to get her to address and close the many deficiencies he found in her management of the agency.
Finally, there is the question of how well an agency executive leads people. A widely accepted measure of that is an annual survey of employee engagement, satisfaction, etc. Not long ago, FLRA wrote the following about how well the agency did in the 2016 survey compared to the end of Dale’s chairmanship, “Moreover, the FLRA captured the rank of #3 in the Partnership for Public Service’s 2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, reflecting an impressive and unprecedented improvement of over 300 percent in the FLRA’s overall engagement score since 2009.” A well-known commentator on federal sector activity pointed out that under Dale, “FLRA finished dead last in the government’s ‘Best Places to Work’” in the last three surveys under Dale’s leadership. As a leader of people, Dale stands right up there with General George Custer, and Ken Lay of Enron.
So, whether you look at her disrespect for the law, her waste of federal funds, her low or her inability to lead people, Dale is a disaster. Ironically, there may be a silver lining to her being added to the swamp. She does very little, and more than half of what she gets done is reversible by the courts, which will likely pump millions into union attorney fee coffers.