As the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is in the difficult position of protecting federal employees from a flow of proposals pushed by the majority Republicans that would limit pay and benefits.
It’s an important fight for him, and not just because Social Security’s main office is in his Maryland district. But it’s a fight he regularly loses, just as he did Tuesday, when the committee approved a bill that would have workers pay more for what in many cases would be lower retirement benefits.
The Federal Diary spoke with Cummings about federal workplace issues. We also have requested an interview with Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), chairman of the federal workforce subcommittee, who is often Cummings’s opposite on employee legislation. Here is a partial transcript of the Cummings interview, edited for clarity and length. More will be published online this evening in the Federal Diary and in tomorrow’s print editions of The Washington Post.
Federal Eye: Given the government’s financial problems, do you think federal employees, who are now in the middle of a two-year freeze on basic pay, will be required to sacrifice more?
Cummings: I think Republicans are going to do everything in their power to make sure they sacrifice more. I am vehemently against it. I think they have sacrificed enough already over these two years. I don’t think we should be trying to address these budget problems on the backs of these employees.
Will the Congressional Budget Office report increase the changes of a third-year extension of the pay freeze? (CBO said federal employees with a high school education or less earn about 21 percent more than their private sector counterparts; federal workers with a bachelor’s degree earn about the same and those with advanced degrees are paid about 23 percent less. In total compensation, including benefits, federal workers are paid 16 percent more, according to CBO).
It’s a very mixed report . ... I have no doubt the Republicans will try to take it and say federal employees are overpaid. The CBO is very skillful at scoring (estimating the cost of legislative proposals). I don’t know how skillful they are at these kinds of reports. ... A lot of the private sector is getting rid of things like pensions. Are we going to allow ourselves to race to the bottom and do away with benefits?