A RESPONSE TO PATRICK PIZZELLA AND THE BROTHERS
Patrick Pizzella is the newest member of the FLRA, filling the minority party seat. Yesterday, he signed his first decision (AFGE, 67 FLRA 107) and did something quite strange. After agreeing with the other two members on the basic decision, he felt compelled to write a concurring opinion to tell us about himself. In the process he showed how little he knows and how socially clumsy he can be.
Pizzella declared, as if anyone needs or cares to know, that he has taken the FLRA job not to protect federal employees or the federal government, but primarily to protect the “hardworking American taxpayers” from waste. He believes taxpayers are being bilked by the frivolous claims federal employees and their unions file as well as the official time the law provides them. There are three things terribly wrong and naïve with that. First, it insults his two colleagues, Pope and Dubester, by suggesting that they apparently have not been doing that during the decades of their combined service. They do not deserve that, and he should apologize publicly to them.
Second, it is not his job to use his government salary and agency funds to criticize the law he just took an oath to uphold. Actually, some would say that is quite illegal. If he wants to campaign against the law, he should register as a lobbyist, run for Congress, or start a blog. Until then, his sworn duty is to administer the law as written.
Third, blaming employees for the occasional “frivolous grievance”shows how little he knows about the waste of funds in the federal labor relations program. For example, not long ago we pointed out that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has taken the same unsustainable claim to arbitrators and the FLRA only to lose 19 times. The cost of those loses includes back pay, interest, attorney fees, arbitration costs, and agency staff time to calculate the thousands of checks it had to issue. If the Bureau had only agreed over a decade ago to follow what everyone has told it is the law, at least tens of millions could have been saved for Pizzella’s hardworking American friends. And the Bureau of Prisons is not alone. The Department of Homeland Security has also built up quite a record of statutory and contractual violations that have cost Pizzella’s hardworking Americans tens of millions. The costs of agency stubbornness far, far exceeds the occasional grievance that some self-righteous individual declares frivolous.
Pizzella also seems oblivious to his own potential to waste millions. Only a few years ago Dale Cabaniss ran the FLRA on behalf of the same political party and perspective from which Pizzella comes. She pushed ridiculous legal theories that were more often than not reversed by the federal courts, costing millions in the processing costs Pizzella so bemoans. She also let cases sit for months and years despite the fact that every day they went unresolved back pay liabilities were building. She single-handedly turned agency back pay liabilities of a few thousand dollars into tens of thousands by her indecision and improper efforts to rewrite the statutory provisions she did not like.
Given Pizzella’s sworn allegiance to saving taxpayer dollars we will be interested in whether he saves money where he can. For example, will he reduce his staff and do the decision writing/research himself? If there are so many frivolous grievances and ULP complaints, he could write those decisions easily without the need for a staff that has actually studied the law and labor relations. Will he refrain from experimenting with the absurd legal theories Cabaniss pushed at the expense of taxpayers who footed the bill for her to write them and courts to reverse them?
Or will he focus on forcing agencies that repeatedly break the law to stop immediately, and figure out how to run their operations without creating financial liabilities? Will he focus on the areas of case law that are so complicated and inscrutable that practitioners only have a 50-50 chance of applying them correctly? The Authority has had to issue over 80 decisions trying to explain “particularized need” and the courts nearly dozen, but it is still too difficult for practitioners to apply with confidence. The same can be said about the covered-by doctrine, upon which Pope and Dubester disagree, giving Pizzella the tie-breaking vote. Working on those would save taxpayers zillions.
Mr. Pizzella brings to the Authority a long association with the far rightwing of his political party. His work with the infamous Koch brothers is well known and he is even credited as leading the effort to shut down the same allegedly wasteful government from which he now draws a salary. Recent estimates peg the loss from the shutdown at $2 billion dollars. However, that does not mean he has to spend FLRA funds under his control proclaiming how much more virtuous he is than everyone else or how terrible he thinks a 30 year old statute is that neither Reagan, Bush I nor Bush II tried to change. In fact, there are far better money-saving uses for all the money he is likely to spend decreeing the labor-management equivalent of Santa is a white man, he can see Russia from his back deck, or that Obamacare is worse than Hitler. Save the mindless sound-bites, hollow chest-beatings, and vapid screeds for the Rancho Mirage conferences with the brothers.
Yesterday was a bush-league stunt, Mr. Pizzella, rendering your already questionable bona fides and credibility a joke. We hope you make a strong and quick comeback because there is money to be saved in federal sector labor relations—big money, but not where the brothers think.
To learn more about Mr. Pizzella, check out the following: