New senators to fill three key posts

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WASHINGTON — With President Obama’s re-election, federal employees know what to expect from their top boss, albeit one who is many times removed from their day-to-day gigs.

There’s less stability at the legislative level, particularly in the Senate. Democrats will still control the chamber next year, but three positions important to the federal workforce will have new faces.

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, are retiring, leaving openings to lead the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and its panel on the federal workforce. Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the full committee, will leave that leadership post.

These are key positions on Capitol Hill for feds during a period of budget tightening. The administration and both parties are looking to save money, and the workforce has been a convenient place to tap.

It’s not a certainty, but it’s a good bet that Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., will become chairman of the full committee. Currently he is chairman of its subcommittee on federal financial management, government information, federal services and international security.

Carper, a former governor and soft-spoken Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy, just won his third term with about two-thirds of the vote. In recent years, he has spent a lot of energy trying to reform the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service and improve the nation’s cybersecurity.

A moderate, Carper seems to work well across the partisan divide. Postal legislation that he sponsored and that the Senate approved last spring has received mixed reviews from postal unions.

“Although the bill will provide the USPS with limited relief from the requirement to pre-fund health care benefits for future retirees,” American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey has said, “it does not provide sufficient relief. As a result, the USPS will not have access to the capital it needs to meet the challenges of the future.”

Carper wasn’t available to comment Thursday. He was busy with the traditional Return Day parade and festivities in Georgetown, Del. Return Day is the Thursday after Election Day and features community folks and politicians of both parties enjoying an ox roast, a hatchet toss and a cupcake competition.

They not only toss a hatchet, but bury it, too, in a symbolic ending of political feuds.

The day fosters bipartisanship and cooperation, not a bad idea for the elected officials in Washington to emulate. Perhaps only in such a small state could a quaint notion like cooperation be enshrined with a parade and cupcakes.

“Sen. Carper hasn’t made any final decisions regarding the Committee’s specific agenda in the 113th Congress should he be chairman,” said Carper spokeswoman Emily Spain via email, “but he expects to continue the Committee’s proud tradition of working in a bipartisan manner.”

Spain’s comments indicate that Carper would be a strong supporter of federal employee issues, which would be particularly important given the decision of Akaka, a good friend of the workforce, not to return.

“Senator Carper believes that we need to recognize that nothing a federal agency undertakes can be accomplished without good people,” Spain said.

“Unfortunately, many federal workers today feel demeaned, under siege, and unappreciated.”

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