Resolution praising feds has bleak future

Joe Davidson
Columnist May 30, 2012

Much of the legislation involving federal employees on the congressional agenda lately has been enough to make them spitting mad.

About two-dozen bills, most sponsored by House Republicans, would further freeze federal pay or increase employee pension contributions or cut the workforce.

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

Bucking that tide is a well-intentioned if ill-fated resolution introduced by a freshman Democrat, Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit.

The resolution “supporting federal employees” says the current two-year freeze on federal basic pay rates, originally proposed by President Obama, should end as scheduled this year. Congress and Obama, it says, “should prevent any further cuts to the pensions or benefits of federal employees.”

Clarke said he introduced the resolution because “many times government employees are vilified.”

In preparing the resolution, he drew on his experiences as a local government procurement employee in Wayne County, Mich. His resolution would allow “members of Congress to take a stand on recognizing the value of the work of federal employees and the fact that they’ve already taken a pay cut,” he said in an interview.

More than a resolution that simply praises the good works of the workforce, the measure opposes several specific points that are, or recently have been, the subject of legislation or policy proposals.

The resolution says:

●Federal employee contributions to their retirement system should not be increased. (Congress has already approved legislation requiring increased pension contributions for most federal employees who will be hired starting next year.)

●The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program should not be turned into a voucher program that shifts the costs of health insurance to employees and retirees.

●●The annuity multiplier used to determine retirement benefits for federal employees should not be decreased.

●The Federal Employees Retirement System annuity supplement should not be eliminated.

●Plans for Social Security reform should not include utilizing a Chained Consumer Price Index, which would reduce federal annuities.

Because the resolution is so specific and rejects proposals that many in the House favor, there is little to no chance it will get a vote, much less approved. The resolution has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where the chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and the chairman of the subcommittee on the federal workforce, Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), reject it.

“Chairman Issa very much values the work of federal employees, but this resolution specifically contradicts the reasonable cost-cutting budget reforms advanced as part of the House 2013 budget, other legislation and proposals by President Obama,” said his spokesman, Ali Ahmad.

Ross “would be open to a resolution genuinely thanking federal employees for their service, but not something as politically one-sided as this,” said Fred Piccolo, Ross’s chief of staff.

Clarke’s heart is in the right place, but his resolution doesn’t have the votes in the Republican-dominated House.

Real estate

The Obama administration says it has saved almost $6 billion in real estate costs and is on track to exceed its goal of $8 billion in savings by the end of the year.

Through property consolidations and sales, the federal government — the nation’s largest property owner — saved $2.4 billion through the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2012, according to data that the Office of Management and Budget plans to announce Thursday.

In addition, the Defense Department has saved $3.25 billion through base closings and consolidations since 2010.

Related to these savings are IRS plans to close 43 of its small offices, which according to the tax agency will have minimal impact on taxpayers and employees.

The closings, to be carried out over two years, will save the government more than $40 million in office space and rent expenses.

“Given today’s tight budget environment, we have to be willing to make the tough but responsible calls to save taxpayer dollars,” said IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman. “Cutting and consolidating our real estate is a responsible way we can save money. It’s an important addition to our growing portfolio of cost-saving measures.”

None of the offices has a walk-in taxpayer assistance center, and all have fewer than 25 employees. The workers will be reassigned to nearby facilities or allowed to telework.

“No IRS employees will be losing their jobs as a result of the space optimization,” Anthony Burke, an IRS spokesman, said Monday.

The IRS has more than 650 offices around the country. Added to space reductions announced last year, this round of consolidations will drop total IRS office space by more than 1 million square feet since fiscal 2011.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS employees, said Monday that her union “has been working with the IRS on its initiative to reduce overhead costs. We have done this in order to help the agency avoid further personnel reductions, while also mitigating the initiative’s negative impact on employees’ ability to carry out their important work and serve local taxpayers.

“While NTEU understands that some offices can be consolidated, we remain concerned about closing offices and how that will impact on customer service and operational efficiency,” Kelley said.

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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