Federal employees dodged a bullet this year, with the flop of proposed cuts to their retirement and health benefits, but they shouldn’t put away the flak jackets yet.
After proposing a 1.9 percent federal pay raise for next year, President Trump will urge a pay freeze for federal employees and call for cuts to domestic security programs in fiscal 2019, according to reports released by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Democrats.
Ironically, this comes as Congress nears passage of tax legislation that Trump claims will significantly stimulate the economy. If that’s the case, then why is a freeze necessary?
If you believe federal employees are over compensated, then no other rational is needed.
That rationale was behind failed Republican proposals to cut federal retirement and health insurance benefits.
The two reports are based on budget guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), dated Nov. 28, overruling Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requests. The guidance was leaked to the panel’s Democratic staff by a whistleblower. Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), the committee’s top Democrat, had the staff issue summaries of the OMB document. One report focuses on personnel, the other on counterterrorism programs.
Although the budget documents concern DHS, the personnel summary says “OMB intends to issue a pay freeze for federal civilian employees in 2019.” Quoting the administration’s document, the staff report adds: “OMB has instructed DHS: ‘Per governmentwide guidance, no civilian pay raise is included in the recommended level for the FY 2019 Budget.’ ”
The counterterrorism report says the administration “intends to seek $568 million in cuts to counterterrorism programs” from 2017 levels. That would include decreases in programs on violent extremism, port and public transportation security, domestic nuclear detection and emergency management grants.
According to the staff report, OMB wants to eliminate Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, which “are multidisciplinary groups of security officers deployed to various locations to prevent and deter acts of terrorism” and cut $27 million from Federal Air Marshals.
“I’m worried that the Office of Management and Budget is overriding what local, state, and national leaders have told me they most need to keep us safe,” McCaskill said. “With recent terrorist attacks in our country and throughout the globe, counterterrorism programs shouldn’t be on the chopping block.”
The staff noted that OMB’s budget guidance does not necessarily represent the administration’s final spending plan. Agencies can appeal budget office guidance. The DHS appeal was due Dec. 1.
Federal employees had a three-year freeze on their basic pay rates during the Obama administration. Another freeze “may present challenges for DHS components wishing to retain qualified employees. Morale and attrition within DHS have long been problems that the Department has struggled to fix,” the committee staff report said.
“The absence of a pay increase for law enforcement personnel may not allow DHS to remain competitive with other law enforcement agencies with whom they compete for qualified applicants. This is especially true as DHS components have historically struggled to meet hiring mandates.”
OMB did not respond to a request for comment. Leaders of the two largest federal employee unions that represent DHS staffers and employees in many other agencies blasted the proposed cuts.
“Federal employees all across the country go to work every day to serve our veterans, secure our skies, and support our troops. And yet federal employees make around 35 percent less than private sector workers in the same jobs.,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. His figure refers to data developed by the Federal Salary Council, but it is disputed by conservative researchers.
“For the Administration to say they are going to freeze government employees’ pay next year is insulting to these hardworking civil servants and the sacrifices they make for our country. They know they’ll never get rich working for the federal government, but they believe in the mission and are willing to accept a lighter paycheck for the privilege of serving their country…Federal employees deserve a pay raise, not a pay freeze.”
National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said “we are alarmed by media reports that internal documents contain a proposal to freeze pay for all civilian federal employees. We are still fighting for a fair raise in 2018, above the 1.4 percent across the board raise the administration is calling for. Private-sector wages for 2018 are expected to rise by 3 percent.
“Unlike previous years without pay increases,” he added, “a pay freeze in 2019 would come during a time when the private-sector job market is healthy and the overall economy is growing…It would make it harder for the government to recruit and retain the highly-skilled professionals needed to protect our security, our economy and our public health. A pay freeze would be a callous attack on middle-class Americans who have chosen to serve their country and their fellow citizens.”