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Washington notes: Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole seeks to protect some defense workers from furloughs

Chris Casteel: A congressional committee spares the National Weather Service from budget cuts and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn targets taxpayer-funded union activity
by Chris Casteel Modified: July 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm •  Published: July 21, 2013

Rep. Tom Cole is seeking to head off potential furloughs next year of the blue-collar workers at Tinker Air Force Base and other military installations.

Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Tinker, has authored an amendment to the military spending bill that would prevent the U.S. Defense Department from furloughing workers who aren't paid from appropriations made by Congress.

Workers at Tinker's aircraft maintenance center, for instance, are paid from a working capital fund. Essentially, the maintenance center is like a business and its “customers” pay into that revolving fund for work performed on planes.

Before the furloughs began earlier this month, Cole and other lawmakers protested furloughing the workers who were paid from the fund, arguing that it was legally questionable and wouldn't save any money since the work was already funded.

The Pentagon has defended the legality of furloughing indirect employees and said that it would save $500 million in the next few months from the forced days off for workers paid through the fund.

The majority of the 14,000 civilians at Tinker who are being furloughed for a day a week through September are paid through a working capital fund.

Cole's amendment, which is being co-sponsored by members from both parties, would bar the Defense Department from furloughing employees paid from a working capital fund. The military spending bill — which covers the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 — is expected to be considered next week by the House.

The Pentagon has not announced whether there will be furloughs in the next fiscal year.


Weather Service budget protected

Though hardly any federal department or agency has escaped recent budget cuts, there is one that could be protected next year: the National Weather Service.

A House committee approved a 2014 spending bill that slashes funding for the Commerce Department — which includes the National Weather Service — but gives the weather service $8 million more than requested by the Obama administration.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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Bills seeks limits

on union work

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and nine other Republican senators introduced legislation last week to reduce the amount of paid time federal employees can spend on union activities.

The bill would repeal provisions in federal law regarding “official time,” which allows some employees to conduct union activity while being paid. According to the senators, the Office of Personnel Management has estimated that the government spent $155 million in 2011 paying for activities on official time.

“Using taxpayer dollars to finance what is often highly partisan and political full-time union work is a grievous violation of the public's trust,” Coburn said.

“Sadly, this is a widespread problem. Agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs have hundreds of employees on their payrolls that do nothing but full-time union work paid for by taxpayer dollars.

“This bill will restore the public's trust by ensuring federal employees — and the taxpayer funds that support them — are instead used to appropriately execute the mission of every federal agency.”

The legislation, which stands little chance of passage in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, would provide exceptions when unions and agencies agree the use of official time is reasonable, necessary and in the public interest.


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