Senate candidates address federal employee issues

Joe Davidson
Columnist November 1, 2012

With just a long weekend before Election Day, it’s not too late to look at where area U.S. Senate candidates stand on federal employee issues.

Candidates in Virginia and Maryland were asked a series of questions that covered federal pay, retirement, workforce size and Saturday mail delivery. Following are their e-mailed answers, not all of which are directly on point. In some cases they were edited for space.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Virginia

Federal pay

George Allen (R): Until Washington gets its fiscal house in order and deals with the pending sequestration, there should not be automatic pay raises for federal employees nor for members of Congress (in fact, I have proposed a Paycheck Penalty Act, withholding pay for Congress when they fail to pass budget/appropriations bills on time). . . . When federal employees identify cost-saving ideas that are successful, they ought to receive a bonus from the savings.

Tim Kaine (D): When I was mayor of Richmond and then governor, I worked across the aisle to make smart spending cuts and streamline government, but never targeted government employees. I support ending the current pay freeze, but believe that it must be combined with a comprehensive budget deal to ensure our long-term fiscal health.

Workforce size

Allen: I support reducing the federal workforce through attrition. I found a hiring freeze to be an effective means of right-sizing the state workforce when I served as governor, with exemptions for public safety and health services. A similar approach can be made in the federal government with prioritization of national security and public health.

Kaine: Federal employees are a crucial part of Virginia’s population and economy, and provide some vital services to our country. We must be sure not to unfairly target public servants. Because of our current fiscal situation, we must take steps to balance the budget, and it is likely that everyone will have to make sacrifices. . . . As senator, I will support making our government more efficient and making targeted cuts to get our budget under control.

Federal retirement

Allen: If this concept [employees contributing more toward their retirement] goes forward, it should apply only to prospective new employees. I believe it is very important to honor the commitments made by government to federal employees and retirees. That is why, as governor, I made it the policy of the commonwealth to stop the discriminatory tax on federal and military retirees whose benefits had been taxed by Virginia.

Kaine: Given our current budget crisis, we must take significant steps to rein in spending. We should not, however, single out federal employees in determining our budget going forward. There are much larger savings to be found elsewhere.

Five-day mail delivery

Allen: We need a comprehensive solution to the current Postal Service financial problems, which could include this proposal, but would also have to include other changes to the Postal Service’s business model so that it adapts to new technology.

Kaine: The U.S. Postal Service provides an invaluable service to our country. In fact, many seniors rely on it to receive prescription drugs and other necessities. In order to keep the USPS financially stable, we should first look at items like the requirement to pre-fund future retirees’ health benefits as a potential source of funds.

Maryland

If the polls are accurate, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) will easily win reelection. Surveys indicate he is on track to get about 50 percent of the vote, with Dan Bongino (R) a distant second and Rob Sobhani (I) coming in third.

Federal pay

Bongino: Having spent over a decade working for the federal government as a Secret Service agent, I can sympathize with their [federal employees] plight. . . . Although they, like any citizen, would enjoy yearly increases in compensation, they are Americans first. They want a growing pie, from which all sectors benefit, instead of a government-managed economy which jeopardizes their job security as well.

Cardin: I will continue to block any attempts at across-the-board cuts to employee pay or compensation. Hard-working federal employees already have made a $60 billion contribution to deficit reduction through the multi-year pay freeze. Federal employees have made sufficient sacrifices to help solve our nation’s fiscal problems and should not be singled out or scapegoated as we tackle our fiscal problems. A pay adjustment should be retroactive to January 2013.

Sobhani [answers provided by staff]: Rob Sobhani does not believe that we can or should balance the budget on the backs of federal employees. Skilled federal workers should be paid in a way that is commensurate with their expertise, and the freeze on their salaries has lasted long enough.

Workforce size

Bongino: I will not take a meat axe to employment, but I will support zero-base budgeting and sunsetting of agencies that have outlived their mission.

Cardin: I agree with President Obama [who has spoken against “blindly cutting our workforce”] and disagree with Mitt Romney, John McCain and others who advocate for wholesale cuts to the federal workforce. . . . These are people who keep our food safe, provide support for seniors and disabled Americans, protect our borders and search for lifesaving cures for diseases. We need to ensure that each department and agency has the resources, including personnel, to do their job effectively and efficiently before considering any changes to the workforce.

Sobhani: At this time, it [workforce size] seems appropriate.

Federal retirement

Bongino: Everyone must sacrifice in order to preserve the long-term fiscal health of the U.S. government. Having served as a Secret Service agent for over a decade enabled me to experience the satisfaction of serving the American people while seeing the inner workings of our government. Congressional pay and benefits should be cut first before asking the federal rank and file to forfeit more of their benefits.

Cardin: I fought to remove provisions that were in the House bill that would have increased pension contributions for current federal workers, reduced a general reduction in pension benefits for federal workers and added an additional year of a pay freeze.

Sobhani: They should be able to contribute more to their retirement savings and newer workers should not pay more for their benefits than others.

Five-day delivery

Bongino: Five-day delivery is a reasonable accommodation to ask to keep the Post Office solvent.

Cardin: Drastic cutbacks or a slash-and-burn approach would only further destabilize the Postal Service and worsen its financial position rather than improve it. I supported the reform bill that was passed by the Senate with bipartisan support. It provides important financial relief for the USPS while also preserving jobs and important mail delivery services in our communities.

Sobhani: If this will improve efficiency and reduce costs, then Rob supports the initiative of postal officials to move to a five-day schedule.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

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

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