Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson
Columnist

GOP fiscal cliff plan would freeze federal pay for a total of five years

The Republican plan to avoid a year-end fiscal cliff of budget cuts and tax increases is like an old, out-of-tune song to federal workers, at least the stanza that mentions them.

They’ve heard it repeatedly and didn’t like it the first time.

Joe Davidson

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace 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.

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More debt ceiling coverage

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Want to abolish the debt ceiling? Join the club.

Want to abolish the debt ceiling? Join the club.

The list of people who want to eliminate the debt ceiling includes Alan Greenspan, three former Treasury Secretaries, most of the nation's prominent economists, and analysts dating as far back as the 1950s.

In a Monday letter outlining the plan to President Obama, House GOP leaders, led by Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio), did not detail how their plan would affect the federal workforce, but they did say it would include “hundreds of billions in savings in other mandatory spending, including reforms to Federal employee compensation” that are in the fiscal 2013 budget resolution approved by the House.

The resolution’s estimated cost to workers is $368 billion over 10 years.

Federal employee leaders have denounced the GOP budget document, which “freezes federal pay through 2015,” for a total of five years, and calls for federal employees to make an unspecified “more equitable contribution to their retirement plans.” It also calls for reducing the workforce by 10 percent through attrition by 2015.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said the GOP plan is “unacceptable.”

“It is well past time for the House leadership to put forward a plan based on shared sacrifice,” she added, “and not to call on federal employees for even greater contributions.”

Although a current freeze on basic federal pay, which began in 2011, and other hits to their compensation are already costing federal workers $103 billion over 10 years, the Republican budget says they are “immune from the effects of the recession.”

Referring to within-grade “step” increases, the GOP budget said, federal employees “have received regular salary bumps regardless of productivity or economic realities.” It also refers without example to “the privileged rules enjoyed by government employees.”

The workforce changes, along with their other proposals, “are, in our view, absolutely essential to addressing the true drivers of our debt, and we will continue to support and advance them,” the GOP letter said.

New Hatch Act penalties

The Senate approved changes to the Hatch Act on Friday that would provide a greater range of penalties, in addition to termination, for federal employees who violate the law.

Under current law, which regulates political activity by federal and some state and local employees, a worker is fired unless the Merit Systems Protection Board unanimously agrees on a lesser penalty. The legislation, which must pass the House, would allow more flexibility, including the ability to reprimand, demote, suspend or fine an employee not more than $1,000.

Other provisions ease restrictions on state and local government employees, including District workers, who are covered by the Hatch Act.

“I am pleased the Senate approved this important legislation, which will allow more Americans the right to run for public office and serve their communities, and treat federal employees and employees of the District of Columbia more fairly,” said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), who sponsored the bill.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: “This bipartisan legislation makes common-sense updates to the Hatch Act. This bill will allow state and local government employees to serve their country and their communities by running for office, and it will allow for greater fairness by providing a range of penalties for Hatch Act violations.”

Cummings introduced similar legislation in the House.

“I urge the House to act swiftly to send this bill to the president’s desk,” he said.

First contract for TSOs

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has signed its first contract with transportation security officers (TSOs), who screen passengers and luggage at the nation’s airports.

On Friday, leaders from the TSA and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) signed a collective bargaining agreement that workers had sought for more than a decade. It was the culmination of a long struggle to get collective bargaining rights for almost 45,000 officers. The AFGE and the NTEU had pushed for the right to organize TSOs and to negotiate a contract for them. The AFGE beat the NTEU in an election to represent the screeners.

AFGE President J. David Cox said the contract, which takes effect Sunday, is “a major milestone.”

The contract replaces the performance management system known as PASS (Performance Accountability and Standards System) with one called TOPS (Transportation Officer Performance System) and changes the way workers are evaluated. The contract also bases shift and vacation bidding on seniority, increases officers’ annual uniform allotment and allows them greater flexibility in their uniform selections.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said he had “met and talked with employees at airports across the country, and many are looking forward to the new engagement opportunities offered by the collective bargaining agreement. We will continue to engage with our employees as this agreement takes effect and work collaboratively with AFGE to move TSA forward as a high-performing counterterrorism agency.”

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

 
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