House Republicans greeted current and future federal employees with two controversial body blows in recent days — one amounts to a pay cut and the other would allow new feds to be fired for “no cause at all.”
The House Budget Committee approved a spending plan that would save the government $163.5 billion over 10 years by taking that amount from federal employees. They would pay that in the form of “greater contributions to their own defined benefit retirement plans,” according to the panel’s budget document.
Republicans call their plan “Building a Better America.” But the Americans now working to build a better country through their federal jobs would be called on to sacrifice again, as they have repeatedly over the years.
“Since 2010, these employees have already lost $182 billion in pay and benefits,” Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a letter to the committee. Those losses occurred through measures including a partial three-year pay freeze and previous retirement hits under the Obama administration.
Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) offered legislation on Monday to repeal the previous retirement cuts. Don’t expect his bill to pass, not with this Congress.
Future federal employees could lose their jobs much more easily under legislation introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.). He wants all new feds to be considered at-will employees, meaning they “may be removed/suspended without notice or right to appeal for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all,” according to a summary of the legislation.
This represents no understanding that civil service protections are designed to protect not just staffers, but also the public from a government bureaucracy riven with political favoritism, as was the case under the spoils system. Even members of Congress eager to fire feds faster must know that this drastic proposal runs afoul of a basic and long-standing principle that says government staffers should be protected from willy-nilly punishment by political operatives.
While Rokita’s plan demonstrates the extremes to which the fire-feds-faster crowd will go, presumably, but perhaps not assuredly, there are enough people in Congress who know better. I doubt his legislation will fly.
The House budget plan, however, is ready for takeoff, though it still has several stops before it is a done deal.
“In past years, our proposals had little chance of becoming a reality because we faced a Democratic White House,” Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said when she introduced the proposal. “But now with a Republican Congress and a Republican administration,” the GOP is rightly optimistic.
The Budget Committee’s plan doesn’t specify how the “reform of civil service pensions” would save the $163.5 billion. The proposal, however, generally tracks with one pushed by President Trump that would raise out-of-pocket employee retirement contributions by 1 percentage point each year until those payments equal the government’s contribution to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Trump’s plan also called for a 1.9 percent pay raise.
That would be diluted by increased worker payments of about 6 percent over six years. Because no bump in benefits is proposed, the plan would equal a 6 percent pay cut. Both Trump and the committee recommended an end to a retirement supplement for FERS employees who retire before they can collect Social Security benefits.
Not all Republicans want to punish feds. Nine GOP House members signed a letter in June opposing Trump’s proposal, because it would renege on the retirement promised to feds when they joined the government.
“Congress and the administration cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of our federal workers,” said one of the letter signers, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), after the House plan was released Tuesday. “Many of our federal employees work at the CIA, Pentagon, FBI, law enforcement, homeland security and intelligence agencies. They and our federal workforce are dedicated hard-working professionals who work day and night to protect our homeland and national security, cure diseases, and provide services that help the American people.”
The Budget Committee also directed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to find $32 billion in 10-year savings. While the oversight committee generally has broad jurisdiction, its authority over spending is limited largely to federal workforce costs.
That means the $32 billion would come from “a very narrow category of compensation and benefits,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the government operations subcommittee. “I fear that’s what it would mean.”
That $32 billion could come from some form of the Trump proposals that are not in the House plan. They include basing federal employee pensions on the average of the high five years of salary, rather than the current high three. Trump also wants to cut or kill cost-of-living adjustments for those in FERS or the Civil Service Retirement System.
“This is a plan that the entire House Republican Conference can support,” Black said after her committee advanced the legislation. “I look forward to passage on the House floor.”
Feds look forward with dread.