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Public Leadership Practices During a Public Health Crisis

Workforce Sustainability Strategies for Public Leaders

Assessing your existing workforce skills, experiences and talents to back stop all your critical services is very important. I am sure you are already taking action to sustain continuity of services. Many of you work with towns and cities in your region and help each other regularly. This all hands on deck approach can also work internally. The positive outcomes are that staff will become more aware of work practices outside of their departments and may in fact develop skills that become important for you in the future.  An analysis of your workforce will cause you to identify the capabilities and skills of staff you may not be aware of.   Encourage staff (even remotely) to begin to cross train each other so that each job has one or two people that could temporarily back fill them at a basic level. 

Working with labor unions and other leaders to allow for changes in work at home programs and hiring policies like part time hiring of former staff who are retired.  Re-assignment of people in very specific fields from state and federal agencies has also been used as the need for very specific skills is running thin.  The federal Environmental Protection Agency routinely assigned people to the states for two year assignments with a very specific program authority. This assignment of federal engineers and scientists to the state agencies had long term positive impacts since our employees became more aware of the state needs and practices. 

Many of you serve on Human Resource committees with the Massachusetts Mayors Association, the League of Cities and Towns in Rhode Island and other groups which work with your state legislatures.  Flexibility in Human Resource policies and regulations in times of crisis will continue to be important.  We encourage you to begin to think together about how some of these regulations can be amended or changed to allow for skilled employees to be; transferred for short periods, given part-time work positions, or other options that will allow you to move employees (temporarily) between municipalities as well as between municipal, state and federal organizations as needed. This is not a new concept programs have been in place in the past that made this possible.

As an example work at home programs became common place on a national level after the loss of the EPA Region 9 office building in the earthquake of 1988.  All of the regional office employees worked from home for two years (600-700 people) with one satellite office of 100 employees in San Francisco. This adaptation to a crisis pre-dated cell phones. All of our regional deadlines and work products were met with few exceptions during the two year work at home program.

President Richard Nixon sparked more than one constitutional crisis during his tenure with his abuse of power.  Much of that behavior caused massive workforce issues for the public sector.  An example of how crisis can be the mother of invention comes fromEPA New England. They took radical human resource actions which resulted in the delivery of impounded funds to reach the states for their intended purposeTemporary flexibility in hiring and re-assignment practices combined with willingness to take on different work by staff can be extremely important.

History: Nixon’s Attempt to Impound Funds

The history of the 1974 crisis appears in the NY Times article in more detail below.  In short, Nixon attempted to withhold funds appropriated by congress for waste water treatment facilities in the states.  The some of these funds were eventually released but very late in the FY 75 fiscal year.  The leadership of EPA New England, Region 1 decided to enlist volunteers from within.  Employees with engineering/science backgrounds from other divisions of the Region 1 office were enlisted for 60-90 days to complete the grants and deliver all the funds to the states before the end of the fiscal year. 

All EPA divisions were on board with this temporary re-assignment of people to complete this work.  All divisions had to take on additional work to make the temporary re-assignment of team members possible.  With training the re-assigned volunteers which numbered between 25-40 people (full and part time) completed this task and the states received their funds before the end of the fiscal year. 

NY Times Article January 11, 1974

Nixon impounds waste water treatment funds constitutional crisis

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10—President Nixon has ordered the impoundment of $3‐billion authorized by Congress to help communities build waste treatment plants in the coming fiscal’ year.  The President’s order came in a letter dated Jan. 1 to Russell E. Train, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. A text of the letter was released today by the agency.

Under the withholding New York State stands to lose almost $400‐million in funds not allotted by the President for the coming fiscal year. New Jersey and Connecticut would lose almost $200‐million and more than $54‐million, respectively.

The impoundment, which in effect, allocates only $4‐billion of $7‐billion authorized for the fiscal year 1975, follows similar withholding of water pollution control funds by the Administration in the last two fiscal years. In those two years, Mr. Nixon allotted $5‐billion of the $11‐billion that Congress wanted to go for treatment plants, water mains, sewers and pumping stations.

If the Administration follows through with its spending proposal, the President will have committed $9‐billion, or half of the $18‐billion ordered spent by Congress to clean up the nation’s waters. The clean water funds are offered on a 75‐25 per cent Federal‐state matching basis.

In his letter, the President reiterated his stand on other impoundments, saying his action was needed to curtail inflation.

Click here to read the full article at the New York Times, or search for Nixon Impounds Pollution funds in your browser.
A Note About Impoundment

From Wikipedia…

Impoundment is an act by a President of the United States of not spending money that has been appropriated by the U.S. CongressThomas Jefferson was the first president to exercise the power of impoundment in 1801. The power was available to all presidents up to and including Richard Nixon, and was regarded as a power inherent to the office. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 was passed in response to perceived abuse of the power under President Nixon. Title X of the Act removed that power, and Train v. City of New York (whose facts predate the 1974 Act, but which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court after its passage), closed potential loopholes in the 1974 Act. The president’s ability to indefinitely reject congressionally approved spending was thus removed.[1]

The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 provides that the president may propose rescission of specific funds, but that rescission must be approved by both the House of Representatives and Senate within 45 days. In effect, the requirement removed the impoundment power, since Congress is not required to vote on the rescission and, in fact, has ignored the vast majority of presidential requests.  [Wikipedia description of GAO language]. 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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