GOP wants to impose hiring freeze on non-security federal workforce

Ben Howard with the House Republican Conference prepares flags for the GOP event in Sterling.
Ben Howard with the House Republican Conference prepares flags for the GOP event in Sterling. (Ricky Carioti)
By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010

House Republicans want to stop hiring federal employees not working on defense, homeland security or veterans concerns, a proposal long anticipated by federal worker unions and supportive Democrats.

GOP lawmakers pledged Thursday to "impose a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees and ensure the public sector no longer grows at the expense of the private sector." The proposal is part of the 21-page "Pledge to America," a set of proposals to cut government spending, reform Congress and repeal President Obama's health-care reform legislation.

Although Republican lawmakers have targeted the federal workforce this year in separate proposals, the "Pledge" nationalizes the idea of curtailing the federal workforce and makes it likely that some Republican congressional candidates will talk up the idea as Election Day nears.

Thursday's proposals most closely mirror a bill introduced in June by Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) that would replace every two non-security federal workers who leave the government with only one new hire.

The plan "is not a rigid hiring freeze but allows the government to continue bringing in new workers while cutting significant costs," Lummis said this week. The government has grown by about 188,000 new workers, or 15 percent, since Obama took office, she said.

"A net hiring freeze is reasonable and necessary," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who helped unveil the proposals Thursday in Sterling. "In the face of massive debt, we must do more with less. We don't need more government jobs; we need a thriving private sector."

The number of new federal hires since January 2009 is likely closer to 200,000, said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. Most of those hires were to replace retiring workers and not to fill new positions, he said.

The government made 201,580 new hires from October 2008 to March 2010, according to Office of Personnel Management figures cited by Palguta. The figures do not include postal workers, temporary Census Bureau hires or the uniformed military. They account for the three months before Obama's inauguration.

Max Stier, the Partnership's president, said the federal workforce is no larger than it was in the 1960s in absolute terms.

"It's actually smaller relative to the size of the population of the United States," Stier said. "Most of the growth that we've seen in the last six-plus years has come from efforts to improve our physical security: the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security. The growth has been in the kinds of jobs that the hiring freeze doesn't apply to. So if you look at the VA, DHS and [Defense], you account for the vast bulk of the growth. That wouldn't be touched."

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the GOP proposals would result in the broader use of "unaccountable and costly private contractors."

"Even under a hiring freeze, the work of the federal government would still have to be done, as the American public expects," Kelley said. She said that the Obama administration is working to eliminate about $40 billion in no-bid contracts and is exploring ways to revert services and duties performed by contractors back to federal workers.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) dismissed the plan, saying that it merely adds to ongoing discussions about government cuts. Lawmakers are already considering Obama's plans to freeze non-defense discretionary spending, to cut $100 billion in the Pentagon budget, and are awaiting the recommendations of the President's Deficit Commission, he said.

Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who frequently speaks about federal workers in Senate floor speeches, said that cutting the federal workforce "will only leave us vulnerable to the kind of dangerous regulatory lapses we experienced under the Bush administration."

"Americans want government that works," Kaufman said. "They want better government, not smaller. We won't achieve that by vilifying those who choose to work in public service."

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