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Employee group shows impact of proposed cuts on government services

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 12:25 AM

Federal employee organizations have been speaking out against plans to cut the federal workforce that have gained traction since the Republicans won the House in November. The pushback has come in mostly predictable ways that probably have done little to show the public that cutting the workforce could hurt services that taxpayers find essential.

Now, one organization is protesting possible cuts in a way that illustrates in unusual fashion the vital importance of government services to everyday people.

The cuts have been outlined in numerous pieces of legislation, in addition to a detailed report in December by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that carries weight on Capitol Hill.

The Spending Reduction Act of 2011, a bill introduced last month by members of the Republican Study Committee, has political muscle because the study committee includes most House Republicans. And Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has embraced the committee's call for reducing the government's discretionary budget to 2006 levels for 10 years.

"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," the study committee said in a news release.

The response of employee organizations has been strong, but it is unlikely to capture the imagination of many people outside the Capital Beltway. A Jan. 13 letter from 15 groups in the Federal-Postal Coalition, for example, said: "Freezing or cutting pay sends the wrong signal to the best and brightest workers federal agencies will need to recruit and retain to make government operate more efficiently, prevent the next terrorist attacks, fight two wars, cure diseases, provide assistance to unemployed and disabled Americans and treat wounded military personnel and veterans."

Federally Employed Women, an association that advocates for women in the federal government, signed that letter and has issued a paper that drives the point home with more force.

Using a timeline that breaks 24 hours into half-hour segments, the paper tries to show how "the critical services that our federal workers provide" affect "one day in the life of an average working mother."

Here's how federal employees affect the life of FEW's average working mother during just one hour of her day:

"11:00 a.m. Equal employment. My fellow workers and I work as a team allowing us to succeed. This is because workers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforce federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee. The Office of Disability Employment Policy works toward a world where people with disabilities have unlimited employment opportunities. The Department of Justice enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act to help provide access from design standards for buildings to mediation. Without these people, several of my co-workers would be unable to work or would not be hired, and I would miss their valuable input.

"11:30 a.m. Weather reports. I check the weather reports. NOAA's [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's] National Weather Service and Global Systems Division employees do the best job possible in trying to predict the weather to allow us all to adequately prepare for adverse circumstances.

"[Noon]. Health care. I grab a quick lunch and stop to visit my friend in the hospital. We thank the experts at the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] who help ensure that her medications are safe and those at the Department of Health and Human Services who help oversee our health care laws. Helping to relieve my friend's stress about paying for her medical care are the Health Care Financing Administration workers who make sure Medicare and Medicaid are run efficiently."

Bigger tax bite

Many readers have called and written about increases in the amount of income taxes being withheld from their annuity checks and about the lack of response from the Office of Personnel Management to their questions.

We asked OPM to explain why this is happening now.

A spokeswoman referred us to an announcement on OPM's Web site that says the Internal Revenue Service "did not release the 2011 income tax withholding tables until mid-December 2010. OPM did not receive the tax withholding tables in time to apply them to your January 3, 2011 annuity payment."

Withholding tables are used to calculate taxes based on income ranges.

The OPM announcement says "the 2011 income tax withholding amounts have now been applied and will affect your February 1, 2011, payment and all subsequent payments in 2011."

An OPM fact sheet notes that "many individuals will pay more federal tax for 2011" because the Making Work Pay tax credit expired Dec. 31.

On the issue of customer service, OPM Director John Berry said the agency is hiring more people to deal with annuity-related issues.

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