J. David Cox Sr. can be a jolly fellow, but he might be confusing budget time with the Christmas season.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) leader reacted to President Obama’s call for a 1.6 percent federal employees’ pay raise as if Santa left stones in their stockings.
“AFGE is calling on lawmakers to approve a 5.3% pay raise in 2017, which reflects the 1.6% national increase employees should receive plus a partial catch-up for the national and local pay adjustments denied for the past four years,” said the union president’s statement.
No matter how good his point might be, 5.3 percent is only a little bit more realistic than expecting peace on Earth and goodwill to all. Congress won’t grant that increase, despite federal workforce sacrifices in recent years.
“For six consecutive years, federal employees received no locality increases to their pay, and for three of those years they received no pay raise at all,” said Cox after The Washington Post reported the pay plan. The freeze was on basic pay rates. “Since 2010, the inflation-adjusted value of federal wages and salaries has fallen by 6.5%, leaving all federal employees with a lower standard of living than they had at the start of the decade.”
The planned pay hike is included in the budget proposal the administration will release Tuesday. Complaining Obama “again set the bar far too low,” Cox said the 1.6 percent hike continues “a regrettable record of denying federal employees even the most basic cost-of-living adjustments.”
AFGE is organizing a Capitol Hill “rally for a fair pay raise” on budget day with sympathetic members of Congress and national labor leaders.
National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon also complained about a raise that “does little to overcome several years of pay freezes and below-market increases,” but he did praise Obama’s call for six weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers.
Although Congress isn’t going to give federal workers the raise they want, they were on the minds of legislators Thursday.
Beth Cobert appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is considering her appointment as director of the Office of Personnel Management. She has been serving as the acting director since July, when the previous boss, Katherine Archuleta, left under heavy criticism surrounding the cyber-theft of personal information belonging to 22 million federal employees and others.
Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had kind words for Cobert, but he clearly has not been pleased with OPM’s leadership related to the breach. “Congress should not have to tell agency heads that they are responsible for protecting Americans’ most sensitive data. That responsibility should be obvious,” he said. “Unfortunately, that has not been the case.”
He also questioned her about a subpoena for records related to how the cyber-theft was discovered. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) issued the subpoena Tuesday.
“OPM, under Ms. Cobert’s leadership, is not cooperating with the Committee’s investigation…” Chaffetz said in a statement. “The documents we’ve repeatedly requested be provided to this Committee are essential to fulfilling that promise. Despite assurances of cooperation, I’m disappointed Ms. Cobert is not working in good faith with the Committee.”
Cobert said OPM has been “working very actively” to be responsive to the House demand for documents. An OPM statement said “OPM has made every effort to work in good faith to respond to multiple congressional oversight requests” and pointed to the “tens of thousands of documents and internal reports” and the “thousands of staff-hours” used in replying to congressional requests.
Johnson also pressed Cobert on a letter sent to her Tuesday by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). In it, he issued a veiled threat to hold up her nomination, saying he would be happy to see “the nomination move forward” if OPM provides responses to questions posed to her predecessors on “a number of questions related to the special health care exemption given to Members of Congress and congressional staff under” the Affordable Care Act. The questions date from 2013.
A veiled threat is no less real. Vitter held up the nomination of retired Navy Rear Adm. Earl L. Gay to be OPM deputy director last year for the same reason. Gay’s nomination was eventually withdrawn, because of politics, not qualifications.
Vitter complained about OPM’s involvement with regulations that allowed Congress to declare itself a “small business” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act.
Johnson asked Cobert “what kind of mental gymnastics was required of OPM to basically define Congress as a small employer.” She said she’d have to get back to the committee because those issues were considered before her time at OPM.
But in the politics of Capitol Hill, that might not matter.
Johnson said he sympathizes with Vitter’s points and the frustration over “the lack of response from OPM.” Reminding Cobert of Gay’s ill-fated nomination, Johnson said, ominously, “this will be a serious issue.”