Has NTEU’s current President exaggerated her ability as a Congressional witness? Washington Post columnists have raised this question.
For years, our National Office has promoted the incumbent’s reputation for testifying before Congress, and that relentless boosterism has understandably contributed to her standing among many Chapter Leaders. But just last year, The Washington Post undercut that narrative by shining a light on a questionable practice by NTEU’s Public Relations Department—a practice that awards what The Post clearly implies is excessive credit to the current President for the work of NTEU staff members.
Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post’s Federal Eye column ran a piece by Joe Davidson of the Post’s Federal Diary about NTEU’s President. Neither O’Keefe or Davidson is anti-union. But Davidson is clearly skeptical of NTEU’s PR. As Davidson writes, “It’s not unusual for an agency or an organization to have a primary spokesperson. But the National Treasury Employees Union apparently is so intent on reserving that role for its president, Colleen M. Kelley, that even when other people speak for the union they are not acknowledged by the organization.”
For example, Davidson reports, Barbara Atkin, NTEU’s deputy general counsel, delivered perceptive remarks on the Federal Career Intern Program and hiring reform at an OPM gathering. “But was Atkin named in the release? No way. She was invisible,” as the release attributed her remarks to “NTEU said.”
On another occasion, according to The Post, a press release reported “what NTEU told a…subcommittee,” but failed to say that “it was the union’s (apparently invisible) legislative director, Maureen Gilman, who actually delivered the remarks.”
Only a day earlier, Davidson wrote, NTEU testified before a House federal workforce subcommitee. The press release from the National Office, Davidson pointed out, “mentioned Kelley in the third paragraph, leaving the impression that she was the one who testified. Not so. Again Gilman did the duty, but didn’t get the credit.”
The Washington Post column raises questions that are central to the future of our union. Will there ever be room to acknowledge more than one leader at NTEU? Can new leadership be encouraged, developed, and promoted, and fully integrated into our organization? Has our growth as a union been held back by the limited vision of top-down governance? That’s what the election for NTEU National President is about.