Federal managers tell Congress budget cuts will hurt DOD’s mission and federal workers

Joe Davidson
Columnist March 6, 2013

Curtis Titus is a 20-year Army vet, married to a flower-shop owner, and he’s a good Texas Republican.

He’s also a federal civil servant who doesn’t like what his conservative member of Congress has planned for the workforce. So Titus, with other members of the Federal Managers Association (FMA), went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to tell Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), and others, to stop messing with federal employees.

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

Titus, a manager at the Corpus Christi Army Depot, said that he voted for Farenthold but that he’s not sure he’d do it again. The second-term congressman, who chairs the House subcommittee on the federal workforce, co-sponsored a bill, approved by the House last month, that would extend the 27-month freeze on basic federal pay rates through the end of 2013.

Now, as if to welcome the federal managers to town, the House approved the extended freeze again Wednesday as part of a temporary funding measure. The extended freeze would be in addition to across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, that could cut up to 20 percent of federal employees’ pay from April through September.

It’s enough to make people like Michael Frye consider retirement. This FMA member, who works at Edwards Air Force Base in California, has been on Uncle Sam’s payroll for 42 years. He knows of others whose retirement was hastened by the pay freeze.

“We’re sick and tired of being the group that continues to get bashed,” Titus said his FMA delegation told Farenthold.

Titus was pleased to learn about legislation Farenthold introduced Wednesday to keep federal workers from being furloughed because of the budget cuts that began being implemented this month.

“Our federal workforce needs to be operating at 100%,” Farenthold said in a statement.

Like others attending the FMA’s 75th national convention, Titus and Frye spoke in their roles as FMA representatives and not as Defense Department staffers. But it is his life as a DOD employee that has Titus upset with the inability of Congress to reach an agreement to avoid sequestration and measures, largely GOP-sponsored, that continue to target his pay.

“We’re absolutely sick and tired of the finger-pointing and being the pawns in the middle of this standoff,” Titus said.

In addition to costing workers pay, Titus and others said, furloughs would hurt the mission of the department and the entire government.

Forced days off means less work will be done and “that’s going to have a major impact on readiness,” said FMA Vice President George J. Smith, who works at the Naval Aviation Depot in Jacksonville, Fla. “My major concern is we are going to be letting down our national defense.”

Dora Quinlan, an FMA regional director who also is a manager in Jacksonville, said her employees “are most concerned about the agency’s mission, because we do support the war fighter.”

Security clearances are a must for national security workers. Defense Department managers are hearing from staffers worried about the impact furloughs could have on their clearances.

“There are folks who have lost their clearance because of debt-to-earning ratio,” Smith said.

Security clearances are reviewed periodically. Employees not considered financially stable can lose theirs. It’s not that a poor credit rating or being in debt makes someone less trustworthy, but the government, rightly or not, believes that an employee with bad finances could be a target for people offering bribes in exchange for classified information.

“If they don’t have a security clearance,” Smith said, “I can’t let them on the base.”

Smith and Quinlan, like others in Jacksonville and all around the government, are married to federal employees. That means unpaid days would hit two incomes in the house.

“We’ll just be eating at home a lot more,” Quinlan said. “We do tend to eat out often.” She and her husband also like to take a nice vacation every year. “We know we cannot do that this year.”

Others on her staff worry about more basic expenses — mortgages, college tuition, child care.

“They are saying,” she added, “‘enough is enough and stop trying to solve the deficit on the backs of employees.’”

“These are dedicated public servants, and they are really feeling beat down.”

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

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