Kelley: Domestic Partner Benefits Play a Key Role in Addressing Agencies’ Personnel Needs


10/15/09: Aside from their basic fairness and the importance of leading by example, the federal government needs to provide domestic partner benefits to remain competitive with the private sector in the face of its looming personnel crisis, the leader of the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees told a Senate committee today.

In testimony submitted to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) underscored data on retirements impacting the federal workforce provided by the Office of Personnel Management.

“More than half of the federal government’s employees will become eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, and approximately 40 percent of the federal workforce is expected to retire,” she said. “In the next five years alone, it will be 30 percent of the workforce—600,000 individuals.”

Domestic partner benefits are an integral part of an effective hiring and succession planning program, the NTEU leader said, reiterating the union’s support for S. 1102, the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009. The measure was introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), committee chairman, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member, and has 23 co-sponsors.

As she has in past testimony on this issue, President Kelley emphasized the legislation not only would allow federal workers with domestic partners to participate in employee benefit programs similar to the options allowed for married couples, it would subject them to the same employment-related obligations and duties that are imposed are married employees and their spouses.

“The integrity of the civil service system demands not only that there be fairness in benefits,” she said, “but that nepotism and other abuses not be permitted because of an exemption of domestic partners.”

She noted, as well, “a very sound principle that has been embraced on a bipartisan basis—that fair and comprehensive employee benefits in our society are best promoted by the federal government as a model employer.”

In the case of domestic partner benefits, however, Kelley pointed out that the federal government has become a laggard; more than 53 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer such benefits to their workers—as do many public employers, including 13 states and 201 local governments.

The fact is, the NTEU leader said, “Tens of thousands of private companies, growing numbers of non-profit employers, including colleges and universities, and the very entities that are competing with the federal government for the recruitment of the best and brightest of the workforce are offering domestic partner benefits. Market forces and the good example of the private sector now put the issue before the federal government.”

In support of her argument, President Kelley told the committee that NTEU members and leaders from across the country regularly raise the issue in a variety of union settings, including meetings, conferences and the like. “And increasingly, particularly among new hires,” she said, “it is not only desire and need, but there is an expectation of domestic partner benefits from NTEU members who have received these benefits in the private sector.”