Democrats mostly ignore feds in platform

Columnist

When you’re taking money out of someone’s pocket, the least you could do is give them a pat on the back.

Yet, in the midst of the federal pay freeze that President Obama recently urged Congress to extend and an administration plan to charge federal employees more for their retirement benefits, the Democratic platform, revealed at the party’s convention in Charlotte, offers the workforce no words of support.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns. View Archive

In fact, it says very little at all about federal employees.

Even the platform issued by the GOP in Tampa last week says Republicans “recognize the dedication of federal workers.”

But federal employees can differentiate between feel-good language and the deep plunge the GOP wants to take into their pocketbooks. Case in point: The House-approved budget, authored by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, calls for extending the freeze on basic federal pay rates until 2015, for a total of five years. That’s more than double the freeze implemented by Obama. His original two-year freeze was scheduled to end in December, although Obama has proposed extending it until spring.

“We were very surprised to learn federal workers were not included in the party’s platform,” said William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “No one likes to be left out, of course, but this pales in comparison to the attacks leveled against federal workers in this cycle’s Republican Party platform.”

Congressional Republicans have proposed about two dozen bills that amount to direct hits on federal employees, generally by halting pay raises, increasing employee pension contributions and cutting the workforce through attrition.

The Democratic National Committee did not respond to a request for comment on federal employees and the platform. The document does touch on a few issues directly important to feds.

“This administration has committed to hiring 100,000 Americans with disabilities within the federal government by 2015, and has proposed new rules to create employment opportunities with federal contractors,” it says.

The document calls for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and approval of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. That would make additional benefits available for the same-sex spouses of federal workers. The platform also talks about streamlining regulations and consolidating federal agencies.

But Democrats blew a chance to tout Obama administration efforts to promote federal job opportunities for veterans. The platform’s section on veterans mentions an executive order “making it harder for for-profit colleges to prey on veterans,” and programs to help vets get jobs in the private sector. Yet, the section says nothing about Obama’s November 2009 executive order “to enhance recruitment of and promote employment opportunities for veterans within the executive branch.”

“I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on federal employees,” J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a telephone interview from Charlotte. Cox said he talked about federal employees when he spoke to the Democrats’ Maryland caucus Monday and complained about the pay freeze to members of the local congressional delegation after the meeting. Cox has called for the 0.5 percent pay raise, which Obama earlier proposed, to be made retroactive when the extended freeze ends.

Like other union leaders, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, welcomed the Democratic platform’s general support for organized labor and the more progressive approach the party takes toward federal workers.

“While the Democratic platform does not specifically mention the federal workforce, it stands in sharp contrast to the Republican call for a 10 percent reduction in the numbers of federal employees,” she said.

And despite the lack of more specific language about federal workers, they know where Democrats stand, said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.): “Federal employees know which party is on their side when it comes to valuing the service they render for all Americans, and they are not likely to believe that empty words of appreciation in the Republican platform will make up for the anti-federal employee agenda that the Republican majority has mounted since this Congress started.”

He’s probably right about that. But Democratic words of appreciation also would be welcomed by federal employees.

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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