Obama and Romney on the issues: Federal workforce

October 16, 2012

The Post is taking a comprehensive look at the positions of President Obama and Mitt Romney on several key issues. For an interactive experience including polling, quotes and the ability to choose which candidate better represents your views, visit the Post’s Issue Engine.

Here are Obama and Romney’s positions on the federal workforce:

OBAMA

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

ROMNEY

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.

His plan for eliminating 10 percent of federal jobs involves a “one for two” system of attrition, allowing about one new employee to be hired for every two who leave the government. This would reduce the number of federal employees while allowing new talent in federal service, his campaign says.

Romney has criticized the Obama administration for increasing the size of government. “We have 145,000 more government workers under this president,” he told voters in Colorado in June. “Let’s send them home and put you back to work.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal workforce stood at 2.2 million in March, 146,000 more than when President Obama took office. About 138,000 of those jobs are related to defense, homeland security or veterans.

Romney further maintains that compensation for federal workers exceeds that of the private sector by as much as 30 to 40 percent, based on a report from the conservative Heritage Foundation. He has promised to “stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve.” He wants to align federal pay and benefits with the private sector, a step that he says would save $47 billion.

A comparison by the BLS last year found that federal employees were paid 26 percent less than those in the private sector on average, but it did not examine the relative value of benefits. A later Congressional Budget Office study found federal employees to be ahead by 2 percent in salary, with benefits that were 48 percent higher on average. The Government Accountability Office has said that no single approach is definitive.

Romney calls for consolidating agencies and departments to cut costs. He told Fox News Channel in March that the Education Department “may be combined with other agencies.” At a fundraiser in April, he suggested that the Department of Housing and Urban Development “might not be around later.”

In response to an audience member at a private fundraiser in Florida who said he should “clean house” at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Romney said, “I wish they weren’t unionized, so we could go a lot deeper than you’re actually allowed to go.”

Romney says his plan would reduce spending by about $500 billion a year by the end of his first term, if he is elected.

As Massachusetts governor, he reduced the payroll of agencies under his control by about 1.4 percent, according to the Boston Globe.

— Steve Vogel

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