President Obama began his term pledging to make government work “cool again.” His administration has worked to improve hiring practices and job benefits.
Hiring procedures have been simplified, while recruitment initiatives were begun for students, veterans, the disabled, and minorities — in particular Hispanics, who are under-represented in the federal workforce compared with the overall labor force.
But the nation’s fiscal woes have meant that much of the attention to federal workers during Obama’s term has been on the workforce’s role in the cost of government.
After initially proposing small annual raises, Obama froze salary rates for 2011 and 2012 at 2010 levels, and he later extended that freeze through March 2013 — the longest such period in decades. Obama has endorsed a 0.5 percent raise starting in April.
Federal retirement benefits also have been under scrutiny. Several times, the White House has proposed, as part of larger packages, to increase the contributions that employees must make toward their retirement benefits by 1.2 percent of salary.
Republicans have advocated even larger increases. The only change enacted to date will require higher payments by government workers hired in 2013 or later, or those who were rehired after a break and who had served less than five years. Also enacted, but not yet in effect, is authority for retirement-eligible employees to switch to part-time work and draw a partial salary and a partial annuity.
Other initiatives have included restrictions on conferences, travel and other overhead spending; tighter scrutiny of various types of incentive payments to employees; standardizing performance evaluations for senior career executives; and encouraging teleworking.
The Obama team reversed a policy by George W. Bush and allowed Transportation Security Administration screeners to bargain, within restrictions. An initial contract is pending ratification.
Obama has requested authority to consolidate programs and agencies by White House order, with trade and business promotion agencies to be the first target, but Congress has not granted that. His annual budgets have included numerous proposals, some of them suggested by federal employees through a White House-sponsored contest, to cut or consolidate programs deemed ineffective or duplicative. Also, agencies have been ordered to limit spending in areas such as printing, travel and vehicle fleet operations, while making greater use of technology such as video conferencing.
— Eric Yoder
Mitt Romney calls for cutting the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent, a major reduction in government that he says would help improve its efficiency.