U.S. Customs Service:

Varied Reaction to the Labor-Management Partnership Concept

T-GGD-97-54: Published: Mar 11, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 1997.

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GAO discussed labor-management activities within the U.S. Customs Service, focusing on: (1) the new relationship between Customs and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU); (2) Customs' management, supervisors, and NTEU views concerning the relationship; and (3) GAO's observations on evaluating this relationship.

GAO noted that: (1) Executive Order 12871 required the head of each federal agency to create labor-management councils to help involve employees and their unions as full partners; (2) these partnership councils are to identify problems and craft solutions to better serve the agency's customers and accomplish its mission; (3) in June 1994, Customs and NTEU entered into a partnership agreement that established 19 goals, set up a National Partnership Council, and stated that NTEU will participate in agency operational meetings and groups to ensure NTEU involvement in decisions that affect the workforce; (4) in February 1997, Customs and NTEU implemented a new national contract; (5) GAO's limited work to date at Customs headquarters and selected field locations revealed a variety of opinions regarding Customs-NTEU relations since implementation of the executive order; (6) most of the Customs managers GAO interviewed characterized their relationship with NTEU chapters as better, and most of the NTEU chapter presidents GAO spoke with also said the relationship was better; (7) the views of the Customs first-line supervisors GAO interviewed were more evenly distributed among the range of responses from "much better" to "much worse"; (8) Customs managers and supervisors and NTEU representatives provided similar comments identifying advantages of the partnership concept, including: (a) faster problem resolution; (b) improved communications; and (c) mutual involvement in decisions; (9) comments on disadvantages revealed no clearly shared views; (10) to a limited extent, Customs has begun to evaluate the results of the new relationship; (11) however, these efforts have not set the groundwork for the kind of comprehensive evaluation envisioned by the executive order and partnership agreement; (12) although the Commissioner expects it to take at least 5 years for the new relationship to become Customs' normal operating environment, it is not too soon to develop a formal plan for an evaluation and to share this plan with the Subcommittee; and (13) this plan should address several critical questions, such as the performance measures to be used and how often an evaluation should be conducted.

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