NARFE FEDcon18 Summary Jacksonville Florida
August 25 – 29 2018
Prepared by: Robert Ruskamp Date: 20 September 2018
President, Nevada Federation
The following summary is based on notes that I took during my attendance at the NARFE FEDcon18 National Conference, with associated meetings, held at the Regency Hyatt Hotel in Jacksonville Florida on 27 and 28 August 2018. As Nevada Federation President, I also attended the Joint NEB/Federation Presidents Meeting, the Federation Presidents-Only Meeting, and the National Annual Business Meeting that followed the Conference.
A general outline of the events follows:
Saturday, 25 August: Joint NEB and Federation Presidents Meeting (morning and afternoon)
Sunday, 26 August: Federation Presidents-Only Meeting (morning only)
Monday and Tuesday, 27 & 28 August: Two Main Conference days, which consisted of a general plenary opening session featuring a distinguished guest speaker, followed by a morning and afternoon training session chosen from about 18 alternatives. There was also a closing general session on each day, which also featured a distinguished guest speaker.
Wednesday, 29 August: The NARFE Annual Business Meeting (morning), which featured statements by the outgoing National President, Mr. Richard Thissen, and the Secretary/Treasurer, Mr. Jon Dowie. Other speakers included receivers of awards for recruitment, Alzheimer’s (three speakers), and installation of the new regional vice presidents (RVPs).
The conference also included exhibits featuring a variety of vendors of services of interest to the NARFE Community as well as information booths for such subjects as NARFE-PAC, Advocacy, and Grassroots support.
A more detailed description of the above general schedule follows. Note that, for the morning and afternoon training sessions, I could only give summaries of the sessions that I personally attended, since the number of sessions offered was almost twenty in total.
Joint NEB and Federation Presidents Meeting – Saturday, 25 August 2018
NARFE National President Richard Thissen welcomed everyone to the meeting and made introductory remarks. He expressed his view that the Association is viable and the new Executive Director, Ms. Barb Sido, is providing professional management. The vote on the Bylaws was successful and these are being updated. NARFE is losing fewer members per year as a percentage and migration from chapter to national has slowed and is expected to stabilize. Fed retirees have not taken losses since 1992, though active employees have suffered some hits. There are still rough times ahead and a need to support advocacy. Since OPM will no longer provide contact information list to NARFE, NARFE will resort to advertising techniques (e.g. webinars) to obtain contact information. Although organizations such as FEEA are now operating on a fee for service basis, it is still profitable to continue cooperation with them.
The National Secretary/Treasurer, Mr. Jon Dowie, pointed out the need to compensate for size differences in NARFE federations. The National Executive Board (NEB) Planning Committee will provide new insights and the Financial Planning Committee provides for fiduciary responsibility. The present regional structure is perhaps not the optimal national organization. Lack of leadership to provide adequate staffing remains the biggest problem at federation and chapter levels. About 250 chapters have closed during his tenure and only about 1000 currently remain active nationwide. Completely revised national bylaws are now being worked and the completed revision might be available by January 2019. Multi-signatory authority is needed on bank accounts and the chapter audit format should be revised to include bank statements.
The NARFE Executive Director, Ms. Barb Sido, introduced the briefers for the NARFE standing committees who gave the following summaries (abbreviated here):
Advocacy: The committee structure is being revised with emphasis on congressional district liaisons (CDLs) and their qualifications. Developing structure and guidance for engagement with legislative staff, which covers what a CDL is and what he or she should do. There is a website link to three guidance documents and the NARFE Legislative Action Center (LAC) provides regular status updates and should be checked frequently (e.g. once per month). Potential CDLs must be identified and then convinced to serve. Federations should also consider publishing a “profile booklet” for distribution to legislators to highlight individual federal employee career contributions. Recommend that federation presidents attend the upcoming Legislative Training Conference in March 2019.
Strategic Planning Committee: A plan is in development to determine procedures and timelines for presentation at the FEDcon20. The process is to be data-driven and involves organizational assessment and analysis of finances and the environment. Feedback from National HQ and the field, particularly from federation presidents, is important. A new dues model for the Association is needed. Expect to launch the new plan by the centennial year 2021.
Bylaws and Resolutions (B&R) Committee: The B&R Committee evaluated 29 proposed amendments and 18 resolutions. The impact of one-member-one-vote (OMOV) and optional chapter membership (OCM) on federations must still be determined. There are six standing committees and an ad hoc balloting committee. There is a need to relook the actual purpose of federations and the dues structure. RVP term limitations will take effect on 1 November 2018. For the National Bylaws, also do a possible re-look of the recommendations that were either rejected or not-in-order. The preferential voting bylaw change is coming and there is a need to codify OMOV and OCM. This will present a major educational challenge. Bylaws are essential to operate the Association.
Ballot Oversite Committee: Voter turnout was low (only 6.77%) with 70% online and 30% by mail. However, there was more online voting and more national voter participation than expected. Need to improve (i.e. reduce) the size of the resolutions change recommendation report and continue the adopt-all/reject-all voting option.
Preferential Voting (Parliamentarian): There was no majority on the first ballot for national president (NP). Preferential voting must be included in the Bylaws. A plurality-only vote implies the most votes but does not provide a consensus. Possibilities of multiple votes were considered in view of Robert’s Rules.
Business Model (Barb Sido): The model will deliver value to members through new business methods and will involve interviews, focus groups, and be data-driven. Advocacy is critical, but it does not generate revenue. On business side, we need a different approach since NARFE is currently dues-dependent. Infrastructure support (no revenue) vs. programs. The Association must determine how to better provide support to chapters and customized guidance to members. Need less emphasis on administration and more on programs. It is critical to align organization needs to membership needs.
Branding (Bridget Boel): A strong, relevant, and established resource is needed to provide expertise in federal benefits. There must be a uniform, consistent, and evolving message that tells why NARFE is unique. A request for proposal (RFP) was sent to six firms and TGD Creative Strategies and Solutions (Alexandria VA) was selected. There is a six member HQ branding team. The stockholder view of NARFE was determined through phone interviews and online surveys. Results indicate that NARFE is ready for brand update due to outdated messaging, and confusion in advocacy as well as by the NARFE name. Also, a new NARFE logo is to be developed by the end of 2019.
Influencer Analysis (Jessica Klement): There is a common negative image of Feds and a general distrust of government. Detractors are motivated by ideology and monetary concerns and they all have same anti-Fed narrative. This network of distractors, which includes donors, think tanks, “adversary” organizations, and media outlets, is dense and interconnected. The NARFE-allied organizations have the same objectives, but their approaches are different and they are not so interconnected. There are five distractor narratives: no Fed value for the expense; lack of transparency; hindrance to deregulation; privatization can solve any and all issues; and Feds have an “agenda” (this is a growing concern). Need to coordinate messaging with allied organizations and promote their actions. Need to counter the hostile narrative through “storytelling”, which emphasizes what Feds do and to promote greater recognition.
Themes and Recommendations (Barb Sido): There is a need to determine clarity through external evaluation of NARFE. Membership is not the only issue, and NARFE needs a different focus. The core mission of NARFE should be to serve as the first “go-to” for Feds and must be a voice for ideas. A strong federal community implies a strong NARFE and more members means more non-dues (i.e. advertising) revenue. Operational ratios are a benchmark with the objective being more programs with less administration. We want a fully integrated website with better search direction. Need a strategic view of partnerships with regard to their value for NARFE. A “branding bible” is in production.
Chapter Development (Bridget Boel): The Marketing Committee is developing a manual, which will cover logistics, communications, advertising, and leadership development. Optional chapter membership (OCM) raises questions as to whether chapters are relevant and is it worth paying the dues for membership. The purpose of a local chapter should include grassroots, education, and recruitment. Chapter meetings must be relevant, inclusive, and enjoyable. Communication includes newsletters, email, websites, social media, and advertising.
Communication with National Members (Helen Zajak, CA): Reviewed the history of the NARFE eChapter from its formation in 2011 to its disbanding at the National Convention in Reno NV in 2016. At that time, the eChapter had about 32,000 members and an over representation of about 600 delegate votes. Chapter membership is shrinking, potential new members are not joining, and volunteers to serve as congressional district liaisons (CDLs) are hard to find. The NARFE Email System is limited (e.g. district Vice presidents cannot send emails through it). The OAM replacement (AMS) should be available by January 2019. NARFE still remains the “best kept government secret”.
Association Management System (AMS) (Mr. Johan deCastro): He described the present Online Access Management (OAM) system as fragmented and antiquated with a lack of database integrity. The analysis staff and Configuration Administrative Board (CAB) issued a request for proposal (RFP) and the firm ProTech Associates was selected. Their AMS aims to improve staff efficiency, provide interactive and improved reporting and analysis, as well as ease of use. The cost will be about $375K for the first year, with about $85K per year to maintain thereafter. A “soft launch” is planned for January 2019.
Best Practices Panel (NC Delegation, 3 persons): The panel reviewed the progress in adopting the revised bylaws to accommodate OMOV and OCM in the state of North Carolina. They consider the paper ballot process (5,500 mailed) to be a success despite only a 15% rate of vote return. They work with federation membership on such issues as dues, incentives, training, health fairs, and the Blue Cross/Blue Shield program. There is a three year Strategic and Operational Plan that includes a “laundry list” of measurable action items that emphasize core functions. The federation stresses use of the Go-to-Meeting option, which can record meetings and use bulk mailing and pickup points for paper ballots.
Federation Presidents-Only Meeting – Sunday, 26 August
The Florida Federation President, Mr. Terry Zitek, facilitated the meeting, which only lasted from 9:00 a.m. until about noon (three hours), which included a breakout session. Although few, if any, decisions were made during the meeting, the following points were discussed:
– Write up proposal to address database manipulation, NES Access, and open the new message system to more officers.
– Chapter closure procedure is currently a federation president chore. Present guidance needs to be revised and streamlined. Consider forming a regional team for each region to manage chapter closures and provide more direction on documentation for closing chapters.
– Chapter bank accounts should be kept in the name of chapters, not individuals.
– Consider a rewrite of the Membership Renewal letter. Mr. Lea Zajak (CA) has a new proposed draft.
– Need a defined policy to remove a federation officer, if necessary (or review any already existing procedure).
– Consider a possible chapter-less structure for federations.
– Need frequent engagement with legislators (e.g. in CA, NARFE reps visit legislator offices once per month).
– Account for different interests of CSRS vice FERS employees and retirees.
– There is a problem with communication with members who do not have email or internet access (e.g. in Nevada, about 40% of all members do not have electronic access).
– Advertisement is important for recruitment (e.g. military post newspapers, letters to the editor of local newspapers, etc.). Need more article templates for local news media.
– Public library archiving is a possible option. However, financial material may not be archived.
– Suggest possible decision to vote out the OMOV policy in view of low level of participation. If not, at least make federations and chapters exempt (i.e. national only).
– The “adopt-all” and “reject-all” options for bylaws and resolutions voting should be reconsidered.
– Ideas for recruitment which list advantages of NARFE membership for FERS employees.
– Differences in running of health fairs due to state differences (need national level help on this).
– Consider use of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for mutual support to provide needed number of officers between federations (e.g. NH and VT federations currently have such an MOU).
– Possible use of Skype for conference speakers and make quarterly meetings electronic.
Opening General Session – Monday, 27 August
Political Update (Ms. Mara Liasson): Gave a broad discussion of the national political landscape as it relates to federal issues. The political environment is extremely polarized. However the Mueller investigation has had no substantial effect yet on poll numbers, largely because President Trump has delivered to his supporters in such areas as appointing conservative judges, the economy, and de-regulation. Politics is supposed to be based on checks and balances, which are not automatic, as well as
the art of compromise. However, both national parties have been chipping away at constitutional protections. There is now disproportionate representation in Congress where the Republicans tend to win the “real estate”, whereas the Democrats win “the people”. American politics have become an uncivil and profane “reality show”. Although polarization is not new, it can lead to exploitation by foreign powers. The system is not working for most people, despite economic gains. The social safety net, as enjoyed by federal employees and retirees, is the exception.
Office of Personnel Management (OPM) (Dr. Jeff Pon): Stated that he is proud to serve in Washington DC. He mentioned his letter to House Speaker Ryan in which he recommends reductions in federal benefits, but noted that the letter is “going nowhere”. He mentioned that changes are needed to accommodate a new generation. Whereas the military is held in high regard, the civil service is not regarded so much although their contributions are also important.
Morning Training Session – Monday, 27 August
Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) and Medicare (Tammy Flanagan): Medicare is health insurance that consists of four options: Part A is hospitalization (in-patient), Part B is medical (doctor, outpatient, etc.), Part C is Advantage, and Part D covers prescription drugs. Most persons do not need parts C and D, and Part C limits choice of providers. Part A also covers home health care. Medicare is the primary payer, but has no catastrophic or long term care (LTC) coverage. Applicants may choose fee for service (FFS) or health maintenance organization (HMO). New Medicare Identity cards without Social Security numbers (SSNs) are being issued. The new cards should still be guarded. Note that FEHB coverage may be temporarily suspended, however members should not cancel FEHB, as this would be a permanent loss of coverage. Part B premiums are paid monthly (now $134) and there is a 10% permanent penalty for every 12 month period for opting out of Part B. Penalty, longevity, and location therefore, are factors to consider in choosing Part B. FEHB has multi-carrier options and Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BC/BS) is the predominant provider for Feds. Part B also offers Standard or Basic (network-only) options. The 2018 Open Season is 12 November to 10 December with effective date of change 1 January 2019.
Afternoon Training Session – Monday, 27 August
Advocacy (Molly Checksfield): Legislative Chairs ensure uniform NARFE message, strategize with congressional district liaison (CDL) officers, make federations aware of legislative happenings, and build relationships with congressional members. The Legislative Hotline is published weekly when Congress is in session. CDLs should be: passionate, responsive, knowledgeable, connected, reliable, non-partisan, and polite. Roles and responsibilities include: connect with congress, collaborate with other leaders, attend events, and promote NARFE. The Advocacy tab at then Legislative Action Center (LAC) is a one-stop-shop. The Feedback form provides a comeback copy and issue briefs, fact sheets, advocacy webinars, and a thank you form letter are available. Email is generally the best means to communicate with legislative staffers. State-summary fact sheets (one page) are available under “Grassroots”. There are also Legislative priorities (issue briefs) and town hall meeting instructions. NARFE will hold a Legislative Training Conference in Washington DC in March 2019.
Closing General Session – Monday, 27 August
Excellence in Civil Service (Mike Massimino): A former NASA astronaut who performed maintenance work on the Hubble spacecraft gave a talk on the importance of the role of the Civil Service. He emphasized the importance of teamwork and the continuing role of government in space exploration. There will be a technical migration to the private sector and a commercial launch program is coming.
Opening General Session – Tuesday, 28 August
Rethinking Retirement (Tammy Flanagan): Longevity makes it possible to be productive after retirement and deciding when to retire in an aging world makes financial planning important. The Pendleton Act founded the Civil Service as an outgrowth of military pensions. The federal retirement system was introduced in 1920 with the New Deal, Social Security, and the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA). This was to counteract the spoils system of the “Gilded Age”. In 1978, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) introduced the Merit Promotion System. FERS benefit results have been generally comparable to CSRS and government employees are among the best savers. Long term care (LTC) is expensive and 70% of all over 65 need LTC. There will be an ongoing need for retirement specialists.
Morning Training Session – Tuesday, 28 August
Legislative Update and 116th Congress Preview (Jessica Klement): Gave the Congressional recap as follows: No COLA for FERS; reduce COLA by 0.5% for CSRS; increase FERS contributions by 6% (i.e. 1% per year for 6 years, with No added benefit), eliminate the annual FERS supplement (i.e. no bridging the gap between retirement and Social Security), reduce return rate on G Fund (2.4% average for last ten years) and use G Fund to pay for the “highway bill”, and reduce federal leave (i.e. combine annual and sick leave). The percent of government coverage of FEHB premium is to be assessed based on 19 measures with premiums in retirement based on years of service. House and Senate bill budget cuts, tax reform, and sequestration have so far resulted in no Fed benefits cuts, which means that the NARFE message continues to resonate. NARFE has been on defense for the last eight years. The Postal Reform Act requires postal retirees to take Medicare Parts A, B, and D, or lose FEHB coverage. Opposing this measure is a priority, because it sets a bad precedent by changing benefits after retirement. The bills are unlikely to move (unless they are included in a year-end bill). The Trump budget proposed a Federal employee pay freeze for 2019 and the Senate approved 1.9% average raise, but the House bill did not. This amounts to an attack on Feds in a time of prosperity. Recommend feds contact legislators if he or she is serving on the Appropriations Committee. A proposed Government Reorganization would merge the departments of Education and Labor, dismember OPM, and privatize air traffic control and postal services. However, Congressional approval is required for reforms and NARFE expects continued success. As to the 116th Congress: the agenda, budget threats, postal reform, modernization, drug prices, and a federal pay raise, all remain open options. Lobbying, grassroots advocacy, and NARFE-PAC are the three main components in legislative matters. NARFE-PAC is the political arm of NARFE and supports Fed-friendly candidates. Its goals are to raise $1.5M, disburse $1M, attend 100 fundraisers, and obtain 50% more sustainers to allow better planning.
Afternoon Training Session – Tuesday, 28 August
Leadership Development: Chapters comprise an “army” to complete the NARFE mission and there is strength in numbers. A board of “martyrs” (those who do all the work) presents a risk to the chapter through over-reliance. There are three “hot buttons” that one must use to recruit members for jobs: willingness to learn, wanting to help somehow, and the desire to meet people. A healthy board requires at least four candidates for each position. To attract volunteers, try breaking jobs down into smaller tasks and emphasize appreciation of effort. Applause raises energy and the feeling at the end of a meeting is really the feeling about the entire meeting.
Afternoon General Session – Tuesday, 28 August
Mr. Henry Winkler, a professional actor and entertainer, talked about his personal career journey. He expressed his appreciation to “those behind the scenes” (i.e. government employees). He advised all to never finish a negative thought, but rather always move on to something happier.
Annual Business Meeting – Wednesday, 29 August
The closing meeting on Wednesday morning was open to all members and covered a number of issues. Secretary/Treasurer Jon Dowie’s remarks included thanks to all members for their support during his tenure and noted that finances are in generally better condition. Membership decline has led to a dues revenue decline, but non-dues revenue has improved. The goal of governance is to professionalize operations with more rigor. The federation bylaws approval process has been tedious and additional changes may be needed at the federation level. There remains a leadership challenge at all levels.
National President Richard Thissen remarked that the financial position of non-profit organizations generally is precarious. Optional chapter membership (OCM) has had a positive impact on retention and membership losses are decreasing overall and about 40% of all members are now non-chapter. However, there is a need to emphasize the value of chapter membership. The NARFE Magazine remains outstanding and NARFE webinars remain an important source for recruitment and revenue. NARFE has done well in protecting the benefits of federal retirees. There is a need to upgrade the OAM with attention to membership databases and access. He expressed his opposition to a proposed OPM reorganization as “nonsense” and a return to a spoils system. PAC has met its goal of $1.5M. He also discussed the FEEA fee-for-service and the NARFE Alzheimer’s partnership with $13 for research. He thanked all members for their support and stated that NARFE is receiving good support on Capitol Hill.
There also were three Alzheimer’s speakers, one who had mild cognizant impairment (MCI) at age 53, the chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association, and the NARFE National Alzheimer’s Chair. Their remarks were followed by the annual Alzheimer’s regional award presentations.
The three candidates for National President (NP), misters Steve Lenkart, Ken Thomas, and Ted van Hintum, each gave a short speech supporting their candidacy. There was then a memorial service for deceased retirees of the last two years, membership recruitment awards, and the Alzheimer’s and FEEA raffle results. The site for the FEDcon22, St. Louis MO, was announced, and the new National Secretary/ Treasurer, Ms. Kathryn Hensley, and the new regional vice presidents (RVPs) were installed. Mr. Thissen thanked NARFE members for their support and called for support of new national officers and NEB.