Recognizing the danger ahead

Joe Davidson
Columnist September 14, 2011

A coalition of 22 labor organizations representing federal employees is pledging “to defend the federal workforce from irresponsible cuts in the forthcoming congressional ‘super committee’ negotiations.”

The Federal Workers Alliance (FWA) says it represents more than 300,000 workers who, along with the entire workforce, face “a very uncertain future” because of the super committee’s mandate to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion. That sum is on top of nearly $1 trillion in deficit cuts that Congress and President Obama agreed to earlier.

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

The alliance released a legislative white paper, titled “Concerns Regarding Anti-Federal Employee Proposals,” on Wednesday, the day after the committee held its first public meeting. The paper outlines congressional proposals not yet considered by the committee.

This is another wave of actions by federal employee organizations designed to head off or limit any negative impact on the workforce by the committee, which is officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. As we reported last week, some organizations contacted the panel before it met with the same message now pushed by FWA Chairman William R. Dougan:

“Federal workers are not going to sit on the sidelines while their jobs and retirement security are up for grabs. There is simply too much at stake. We are asking committee members to stand with our nation’s federal employees and make certain they don’t lose the resources they need to keep our promises to the American people.”

The employee organizations see the danger ahead. They are well-organized and pro-active. But it will be a very tough fight in a bout where the basic results are preordained.

The deficit will be cut by trillions of dollars. There is no doubt that much of that, perhaps most, will be in the form of budget cuts. Budget cuts mean agencies have less money to spend on programs, services and employees.

If there is a likely scenario that would save workers from being hit, it’s not clear now.

So, perhaps the best that employees can hope for is to lessen the impact of budget cuts.

Given the current political climate, that would be no small victory. And it would be a victory not only for the union members but for all federal workers and for the public.

“Federal workers provide invaluable services to the American people every day, and they do it at a tremendous value to the American taxpayer,” Dougan said. “They are the dedicated men and women that care for our veterans, inspect our food, maintain our military readiness and defend our borders. Slashing billions more will cripple these vital services and do far more damage than good. Federal workers have already sacrificed with a two-year pay freeze and drastically reduced agency budgets. Piling on billions more in cuts will lower morale, stifle federal services and present a logistical nightmare for federal agencies. It is essential that committee members understand that.”

Another thing for members of Congress to understand, especially those who like to bash Washington, is the potential impact that cuts to the federal workforce will have outside of the capital. Only about 85 percent of the federal workforce is in the D.C. area.

Workforce cuts would have “an enormous adverse impact on the counties in more rural areas,” says a statement from Federally Employed Women (FEW). “Furthermore, the federal jobs that are lost outside the Beltway in these more remote areas will not easily be replaced as those in more urban and/or cities.”

In its statement, FEW cited a PBS report that says small and rural communities could be particularly affected by cutbacks in federal employment. “If you take those jobs away, those counties generally aren’t the kinds of places private companies are itching to set up shop,” the report said. “They tend to have lower-than-average median household incomes and education levels, and their more remote locations mean longer travel to and from bigger cities.”

Prompt payment

Good news for small government contractors.

The Office of Management and Budget says Uncle Sam needs to get a move on when it comes to paying his bills to small businesses. Those bills add up to nearly $100 billion annually.

The Prompt Payment Act requires agencies to pay up within 30 days of getting the required documentation from a contractor. In a Wednesday memo to agency heads, OMB Director Jacob J. Lew said, “To the extent practicable, Federal agencies shall establish a goal of paying small business contractors within 15 days.”

The acceleration of payments, he said, “improves cash flow for small businesses and provides them with a more predictable stream of resources. These outcomes have the effect of preserving and increasing small business participation in Federal contracting, which benefits Federal agencies and the taxpayers.”

Roger Jordan, vice president of government relations of the Professional Services Council, which represents government contractors, welcomed the news.

“Access to capital and cash-flow issues have, and will continue to, hinder contractors,” he said. “Hence, any actions the administration and Congress can take to consistently ensure small businesses are being paid quickly for the important work they perform will be helpful.”

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