The federal government's experiment with expanded collective bargaining rights ended with few signs of progress and with several top labor officials calling the results disappointing.
For the last 18 months, a dozen agencies have been pilot testing so-called B1 bargaining, or bargaining over subjects that are usually left for managers to decide. These subjects include the numbers, types and grades of employees doing particular jobs, or the types of technologies they use. Supporters of B1 bargaining, such as Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, say it would help agencies save money by leading to more efficient and effective ways to accomplish their missions.
The tests showed little success, the National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations will tell President Obama in a report due May 1. But it will recommend that Obama continue testing for at least two more years to give agencies another chance to succeed.
In the tests that have ended, some agencies either had not finished bargaining or had no measurable results, said Bill Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees and chairman of the council's B1 working group.
Most agencies that reported results collected little or no hard data showing benefits to the government, Dougan said. Much of the evidence submitted was only anecdotal and could not be objectively measured, he said.
And many agencies did not bargain over matters that had a "significant and immediate impact" on their missions, the working group said.
Dougan said the National Weather Service, one of the test agencies, had some success overhauling its travel process and collecting cost data to show savings. NWS saved about $240,000 by making it easier for employees to buy airplane or train tickets outside of the regular City Pairs process if they could find them cheaper on a website such as Orbitz.
If Obama continues B1 bargaining tests, Dougan said more agencies will have to show positive results. He said that more training on data collection is needed, and that the Office of Management and Budget should help agencies and labor representatives find ways to collect and measure costs and benefits. Right now, he said, the people doing the negotiations don't have that expertise, and the pilot program suffered for it.
Dougan also faulted the council for not doing enough early on to support the pilot projects. More robust feedback and assistance might have helped the pilots better focus their efforts and set stronger metrics to measure, he said.
Dougan said he hopes Obama will make a decision on whether to continue the tests by fall. If the tests are continued, Dougan said they should be expanded to more agencies. The original 12 agencies were not enough, he said, since some encountered unexpected problems that derailed their bargaining efforts.