By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2011; 10:21 PM
If you thought the two-year pay freeze President Obama and Congress imposed on federal employees would mollify Republican calls for harsher worker sacrifices, you would be wrong.
The Republican Study Committee, a group that makes up almost 70 percent of the Republicans in the House, wants more.
Cutting spending to 2008 levels, as House Republicans proposed last year, would be just the start for the committee members.
Under the committee's Spending Reduction Act of 2011, "at the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, 2011, [non-defense] spending is further reduced to 2006 levels and frozen there for the next decade," the committee said last week. "To help achieve these savings, the bill shrinks the size and cost of the civilian federal workforce and specifically targets over 100 budget items and spending reforms."
But what the committee doesn't readily address is what their cuts would mean for the many services Uncle Sam provides his customers.
For example, would waits for Social Security, veterans and discrimination claims grow? Would there be fewer workplace inspections? Would it take longer to approve drugs?
Committee Republicans would shrink the cost of the federal workforce through a five-year pay freeze and reduce the workforce by 15 percent through attrition. That would be reached by hiring one worker for every two who left government.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) stood with his House colleagues in a news release issued by the committee, against what he called "the wave of wasteful Washington spending. The Spending Reduction Act begins the difficult task of shrinking the federal bureaucracy that threatens our future prosperity."
The federal bureaucracy and those who staff it always are an easy target. But the release fails to mention anything about the impact the proposed cuts would have on service. If cutting federal spending, the federal payroll and staffing levels are necessary, then those who push those policies also should be willing to say what services they are willing to cut to save money.
While the committee's news release and fact sheet ignored the impact of its proposal on customers, others did not.
Bennie G. Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said many of the projects to enhance domestic security - along the border, at airports and in cyberspace - were paid for through the discretionary budget.
Going back to 2006 levels would place homeland security "potentially at risk if this goes through," Thompson said. An overview of the legislation issued by the committee makes no mention of excluding homeland security and veterans' spending from the proposed discretionary limits.
With defense programs excluded, the hit on the remaining parts of the budget would be huge.
"If imposed across the board, such a cut would mean 42 percent less for health care for veterans; 42 percent less for K-12 education; 42 percent less for protecting the environment; 42 percent less for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and border security; 42 percent less for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 42 percent less for food safety and inspection; and so on," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an organization that studies federal budget issues from a center-left perspective.
But let's say the center overstates the problem. According to the Senate's Democratic leadership, even a 30 percent cut in non-security programs would have a serious impact:
l About 8 million students would have their Pell grants cut.
l Head Start would be forced to drop about 389,000 children and families.
l K-through-12 classrooms across America would lose $11.25 billion
l About 3,000 food-safety inspector positions would be eliminated
l Approximately 4,000 positions for FBI agents, 800 ATF agents, 1,500 DEA agents, and 900 U.S. marshals would be lost, as would 5,700 correctional officers in federal prisons.
l Guaranteed loans for small businesses would fall by about $4 billion in 2011.
Asked about service cuts, a spokesman for the committee said the Office of Management Budget would have flexibility to reassign worker slots between agencies if necessary. "People in the private sector often have to tighten their belts, increase productivity and provide the same services at lower costs," he said. "We reject the notion that the federal government cannot do the same."
Providing the same service at lower costs, however, is a notion that often ignores reality. Consider the difference in service between a Home Depot and a neighborhood hardware store. One way big-box stores keep costs low is by hiring comparatively fewer people. Along with lower costs come lower levels of service.
Sam can learn from recent experience. Many agencies were understaffed when President Obama took office and their customers suffered steep backlogs in service.
Going back to 2006 levels "would have significant impacts on staffing and slash productivity at a time when we are receiving record numbers of charges," said Christine Saah Nazer, a spokeswoman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"We would see our pending inventory grow significantly and a marked decrease in our ability to provide training and technical assistance to employers. This would ultimately result in lengthy delays, keeping those who file complaints of discrimination, as well as businesses, in a costly state of limbo."
The cost of government can be counted in different ways. Budget figures are one way, the cost to customers by cutting service is another. When politicians talk about the former, don't let them get away with ignoring the latter.