Being the bearer of bad tidings is not a role that members of Congress relish.
During this season of bad news for federal employees, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) plans to meet with workers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt on Tuesday. The picture he will paint is bleak.
This is what he can report: There’s a good chance the freeze on basic federal pay rates, scheduled for two years, then extended to 27 months, will be extended again, to a full three years. That would wipe out a 0.5 percent pay raise the many federal workers in his district and elsewhere expected to see in their checks next month.
On top of that, some federal workers outside of NASA face losing up to 20 percent of their pay through the end of the fiscal year. Once a fear, furloughs now seem more certain after the House approved legislation last week that would keep the widespread federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
Along with the personal hit on employees, public service will suffer. Workers simply won’t be able to serve the public while being forced to take unpaid days off.
It is with that backdrop that Hoyer holds his town hall meeting with Goddard staffers. They look to him to support them, because he has. Hoyer, along with the rest of the regional delegation, has vigorously fought on behalf of the federal workforce. Although he is the House minority whip, his title comes with little real power in a Republican-dominated chamber.
“Obviously, I’m not in control, as all of us have observed,” he told reporters last week when asked about the pay freeze.
As part of a series of interviews with members of Congress on federal workplace issues, Hoyer spoke with the Federal Diary on Monday about his visit to Goddard and the prospects for federal employees. This is an edited transcript of his comments.
The outlook for federal workers:
The outlook is not as positive as I would like it to be, obviously. . . . The Republicans have been pressing for these freezes and reductions and . . . have a premise that I think is incorrect, that federal employees have been somehow compensated beyond what the Federal Pay Comparability Act sets forth. I think, on average, that’s not the case.
I’m going to be honest with them and say that, first of all, there continues to be a focus on federal employee freezes by the Republicans — reduce federal employee take-home pay and in effect fund other government programs or reduction of the deficit by the money they’re taking from the federal employee pocket. They’re unfairly affected. They’ve now had $103 billion in contributions over the last 21 / 2 years toward [10-year] reductions in the obligations of government or in reducing the deficit. No other group, other than those who make over $400,000 a year, now, are being asked to make that contribution. And these [federal workers] are middle-class, working Americans that every member [of Congress] says we want to make sure are kept whole . . . and allow themselves to support themselves and their families.
Somehow, a lot of members of Congress don’t see federal employees as exactly that kind of person — average working people. I’m going to be talking about how they [Goddard workers] need to fight to make sure we don’t see success for those continuing attacks on federal employees.
The ability of Democrats, who control the Senate and the White House, to overcome Republican initiatives:
Well, the problem is these have been included in bigger bills that deal with big subjects: keeping the government open, the Budget Control Act, not going over the “fiscal cliff.” So, it is very difficult, once the Republicans pass these in the House . . . to overcome their advocacy without defeating major pieces of legislation that need to pass. Although, I would certainly hope and urge the president to veto any continuing efforts to undermine the pay and benefits of federal employees, because if we continue to do so we’re not [going] to be competitive in the marketplace.
Extending the pay freeze through the end of 2013:
We [the House] passed a bill that does that.
On the Senate passing legislation to extend the pay freeze:
I don’t think so. No. I would hope that the bill that includes the sequester in it comes back without that provision in there. I would expect members not to receive a cost-of-living adjustment, but I would hope the Senate would not deal with federal employees the same way they deal with members of the Senate and the House.
Expecting the freeze to continue through the end of the year:
I did say that because . . . we’re going to have to go to conference [where differences in Senate and House bills are resolved] and I expect the Republicans, perhaps, to demand that as a price for their support of any kind of compromise. . . . In this case, we’re talking about a quarter of a percent on an annual basis, a relatively small number.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson .