Democrats want supercommittee to reject more federal worker cuts

Joe Davidson
Columnist October 13, 2011

Democrats on the House committee that deals with the federal workforce have urged the “supercommittee” on deficit reduction to reject additional cuts targeting federal employees. At the same time, the Democrats noticeably broke from President Obama’s call for a civil service reform commission.

In a 28-page set of recommendations, Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform urged the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to “avoid further cuts for federal employees given the significant cuts already imposed on them.”

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

The two largest federal labor organizations, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, issued statements applauding the Democrats’ proposals.

The Democrats’ position is in direct opposition to the savings that would be made at the expense of federal employees in the budget passed by the House, which is to say House Republicans. The situation in the House presents a stark contrast to the Senate, where, in the spirit of bipartisanship, the chairman of the committee that oversees the federal workforce, Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), and the ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, are working together to produce a set of recommendations they will release soon.

In a letter to members of the joint committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House panel, said the recommendations “are being submitted only by Democratic Members because the Committee as a whole failed to develop proposals, hold hearings, or adopt an official Committee report with recommendations to the Joint Select Committee.”

A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the panel’s plan “was included in the House Budget, which was approved by the House of Representatives, and will be considered by the supercommittee.”

That budget plan calls for saving $375 billion over 10 years by slicing 10 percent of the federal workforce; extending the current two-year federal pay freeze until 2015, including periodic within-grade raises in the freeze; requiring employees to contribute more toward their retirement plans; and reducing government subsidy for a retirement program.

The two-year pay freeze was imposed on federal workers in January; the Obama administration says it will save $60 billion over 10 years. The workforce also could take additional hits as agencies identify budget cuts of at least 5 percent, as the Office of Management and Budget has instructed. The future may hold even deeper cuts as the supercommittee looks for ways to cut trillions from the national debt.

Obama also wants federal workers to increase contributions to their pension plans by 1.2 percentage points, beginning in 2013, for a 10-year savings of $21 billion.

The Democrats on the House committee say federal employees have suffered enough.

“Further cuts to federal employee compensation, benefits, or workforce size will negatively impact recruitment and retention and substantially degrade agency performance,” the report says. “The hardworking men and women in the federal workforce provide vital services to the nation, and it is critical to ensure their continued ability to provide these services in an effective and efficient manner.”

The House committee Democrats had no love for the president’s call for a Commission on Federal Public Service Reform that would study personnel policies and make recommendations on compensation. “It makes little sense to create and fund another Commission that would be redundant of past and current efforts to reform federal personnel policies,” they said.

On another point, the Democrats urged the supercommittee to adopt the president’s plan “to combine the purchasing power of all eight million Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) Program enrollees to obtain lower drug prices on prescription drugs.” Currently, the 200 health plans in the program negotiate independently.

Instead of calling for greater sacrifices from federal employees, the Democrats say, the president’s plan to cap government reimbursement for private contractor pay should extend to all federal contractor employees and not just the top-level executives in a private firm. Currently, the government allows almost $700,000 in annual compensation reimbursement to a firm’s top executives.

Plans by the Democrats and the president call for a reimbursement cap of $200,000, which is about what cabinet officers are paid. Although the Obama plan “is a good first step,” the Democrats said, “the Joint Select Committee should expand the cap to all federal contractor employees since lower-level executives and non-executive employees of government contractors also receive reimbursements that exceed this level.”

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