F ederal retiree health benefits and pensions have been off-limits to budget cutters in recent years, but a group of conservative House Republicans yesterday included them in a budget package to pay for hurricane relief and recovery efforts.
The group, the Republican Study Committee, laid out a list of budget options, dubbed "Operation Offset," estimated to save $500 billion over 10 years. The options ranged from delaying next year's start of the Medicare prescription drug benefit to charging federal employees for parking.
"We're asking Americans to tighten their belts; by golly, the federal government should, too," Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) said.
But the insurance and pension proposals from the group, which has more than 100 House members, were met with quick opposition from an influential House member and a key employee group.
"Any talk of cuts to federal employee or federal retiree benefits is a complete non-starter," said Robert White, a spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who chairs the House committee that oversees federal workplace programs.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, which has about 400,000 members, will oppose the recommendations, a spokesman said.
Charles L. Fallis, NARFE president, called it "ironic" that the Republican Study Committee "would offset Katrina relief by cutting the earned economic and health security of the very federal workers that are laboring to get Gulf Coast businesses and residents back on their feet."
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, noted in a statement that the House is taking steps to curb government spending. "My door is always open to any member who wishes to build consensus on reducing unnecessary spending," he said. "My preference is to consider any proposal in a thoughtful, deliberate manner rather than reading about it in the newspaper."
Many of the proposals for budget savings have been discussed for years but have failed to win support in Congress because moderate Republicans and Democrats are reluctant to tinker with benefits promised government workers as part of their overall compensation.
In its briefing paper, the Republican Study Committee called for reducing health insurance benefits for retirees who had relatively short federal careers. The change would bring the retirement benefit in line with private-sector companies and produce savings of $6.3 billion over 10 years, the committee said.
Employees currently qualify for insurance coverage in retirement if they have been enrolled during their last five years of service and are eligible to receive an immediate annuity.
On pensions, the conservatives proposed using a five-year average of an employee's highest-earning years to compute retirement benefits instead of the current three-year average. Five-year formulas are common in the private sector, the group said. The change would produce savings of $5.2 billion over 10 years, the committee said.
On employee parking, the House conservatives said that the government owns or leases more than 200,000 parking spaces and allocates them to employees, in most cases at no charge. Requiring employees to pay commercial rates -- averaging about $130 monthly -- would provide $1.5 billion over 10 years, the committee said.
New Appointee at DHS
Kenneth G. "Gregg" Prillaman, a personnel management consultant, has been appointed chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security.
He replaced Ronald James, who became a senior policy adviser to Janet Hale, the undersecretary for management at the department.
Hale and James have overseen planning to convert Homeland Security employees to a new performance-based pay system and to create an internal labor board to handle disputes with unions.
The position of chief human capital officer was created by Congress in 2002 in a bid to improve the strategic management of federal personnel and improve workforce training and development.
Prillaman has more than 30 years of experience in personnel matters, officials said. He was a principal in the Human Capital Solutions Group at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and was a firm director and practice leader with the Deloitte & Touche Federal Human Capital Consulting Practice.