Federal workers could be asked to sacrifice more than they already have to help reduce the deficit, budget chief Jack J. Lew said Tuesday.
“I can’t say nothing else will happen regarding the federal workforce,” Lew said in remarks at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service in Washington, where he was speaking to agency managers about how to cut the size of government.
“Federal workers are at the heart of what we do,” the head of the Office of Management and Budget said. “We owe [them] gratitude.”
But Lew said he could not rule out more cuts to the pay or benefits of civil servants beyond the pay freeze already in place and increases in pension contributions that President Obama has proposed.
“Everything is going to be under tight fiscal conditions,” Lew said.
About 100 federal mangers and leaders met to discuss lessons they could draw from government cutbacks during the 1990s and to determine how to make better cuts. The Partnership and the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm released a report, “Making Smart Cuts,” that lays out the pros and cons of eight budget-cutting strategies from the Clinton-era initiative to “reinvent government” and the downsizing that followed.
Lew said the administration must balance saving money with the need to recruit talented people to work in government as the baby boom generation retires.
He said the administration wants to give agencies flexibility to come up with cuts that make sense for them, rather than dictate across-the-board reductions.
He said federal employees understand the need for sacrifice but struggle from attacks on their work ethic and image. “We’ve got headwinds of public opinion that are not necessarily going to be helpful in attracting the next generation” of federal workers.
He acknowledged that “public confidence in the institution of government is at an all-time low.” The Obama administration has made strides in eliminating duplication, improper payments to people who should not get them and other wasteful spending. But he said that’s not going to be enough.
“I don’t believe we can make these hard choices by simply saying we’re going to cut waste.”