The Federal Diary
The Federal Diary
Joe Davidson

Action to avert fiscal cliff leaves federal employees with uncertainty

Congressional action to avert a “fiscal cliff” of higher taxes and across-the-board federal budget cuts means that government agencies will avoid many dreaded spending reductions — at least for now.

But “now” is no more than two months. The future remains uncertain for federal employees because the legislation, passed less than 24 hours into 2013, delays the budget reductions known as sequestration only until early March.

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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Tax breaks for rum producers and racetrack owners are some of the growth that lawmakers have added to the ”Fiscal cliff” deal. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold talks about some of the lesser known measures in the new legislation and how the deal could be blocked or amended.

Tax breaks for rum producers and racetrack owners are some of the growth that lawmakers have added to the ”Fiscal cliff” deal. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold talks about some of the lesser known measures in the new legislation and how the deal could be blocked or amended.

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“Really, do we have to go through that again?” said an exasperated Gregory J. Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers. He is pleased the agreement funds unemployment insurance and did not hit Social Security, but “at the same time it’s disheartening to learn no concrete deal was reached, and we will all have to endure this cruel drama being replayed in a couple of months.”

Meanwhile, the new year began with a familiar Republican resolution: hit federal employee pay. As one of its first acts of 2013, the House passed separate GOP-sponsored legislation that would extend the freeze on basic federal pay rates through the end of this year.

The continuing soap opera that passes for governance continues while taxpayers and federal workers watch.

“I still have a lot of uncertainty about the sequester,” said Ruthie Jefferson, a Federal Aviation Administration employee in College Park, Ga. “We don’t know where it is going to lead us as far as furloughs. It’s kind of unnerving.”

Feelings like that led William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, to say “the proposed fiscal cliff solution is a bad deal for federal employees. The most important federal workforce issue of our generation — sequestration — continues to hang over the head of federal employees throughout government.”

The only thing that is certain, said Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, “is that managing agency budgets and programs is not for the faint of heart.”

Although “the operations of government will not immediately change, federal agencies continue to face reductions in resources for the remainder of fiscal 2013,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said his members “are very concerned about the use of additional agency funding cuts in order to pay for the delay of the sequester. How agencies will achieve these amounts is not clear in the language of the bill. Before they look any further at unpaid furloughs or other cuts to critical agency programs, OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] should sharply reduce the amount taxpayers provide to federal contractors for excessive salaries for their top executives.”

Speaking of salaries, basic federal pay rates have been frozen for two years. Employees are expecting minimal relief with a 0.5 percent pay raise after a temporary budget measure expires in March. But legislation introduced by Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and approved Tuesday evening would continue the pay freeze for federal employees through the end of 2013.

“Lifting the federal pay freeze as we struggle to solve the government’s spending problem does not strike me or my constituents as a prudent choice to put our country back on the right track,” he said in a letter to President Obama.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said the Fitzpatrick bill “is a pig in a poke,” adding: “If members of Congress and the public simply take a look at the scoreboard, they’ll see that with respect to the deficit reduction, federal workers not only have borne a disproportionate share of the cost, they’ve virtually borne the only share of the cost.”

He reminded House members that budget savings are already costing federal workers $103 billion over 10 years through the pay freeze and increased pension contributions for many new employees.

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