For federal employees, this week has been a tale of two chambers and the difference between give and take.
In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to give workers a 1.9 percent pay raise in 2019, rejecting President Trump’s call for a pay freeze.
In the House, Budget Committee Republicans proposed taking from federal workers by cutting $145 billion from their pensions over 10 years — that’s $1.5 billion more than Trump wanted.
Meanwhile, the president’s government reorganization plan is being roundly criticized by federal employee advocates, who say the move would not improve government services.
The raise was included in a larger Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which the committee approved unanimously. Committee members demonstrated bipartisan support for the workforce by defeating an attempt to delete the pay raise from the bill with a 29-to-2 vote.
“Our federal workforce protects our nation, ensures the safety of our food and medicine, delivers Social Security and veterans’ benefits, and carries out countless other responsibilities on behalf of our citizens,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “Yet instead of treating them like the dedicated and hard-working professionals that they are, the Trump administration constantly attacks them.”
The Senate panel’s action is a significant bipartisan rebuke of Trump’s pay plan. Democrats and Republicans also have criticized three recent executive orders by Trump that diminish federal unions and encourage agencies to fire feds faster.
The bipartisan rebuke wasn’t lost on federal unions, which have gone to court to block Trump’s executive orders.
“It is astonishing that the president would propose a pay freeze for federal employees at the same time he is claiming the economy is the best it has ever been,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “I am glad that this Senate panel saw the hypocrisy in that position and called for a pay increase.”
National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said in a statement that “it is especially gratifying to see some of the most powerful senators from both parties strongly reject” Trump’s implication that “federal employees don’t deserve fair pay.”
A different story is playing out on the south side of Capitol Hill, where House Republicans want to outbid Trump’s plan to slash federal retirement.
The GOP blueprint released Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack (R-Ark.), is optimistically named “A Brighter American Future.” The cover shows the sun rising behind a map of the United States. Yet the plan would make retirement decidedly more gloomy for federal workers by finding $145 billion in government “savings” at their expense.
A budget document said it “calls for federal employees, including Members of Congress and congressional staff, to make greater contributions to their own defined benefit retirement plans. It would also end the special retirement supplement, which pays federal employees the equivalent of their Social Security benefits at an earlier age. This budget recognizes the need to create parity between federal employees and private sector employees by transitioning to defined contribution plans.”
Greater contributions by individuals with no increase in benefits amounts to a cut in compensation. Creating parity with private-sector employers that have already whittled away or ended pensions is the opposite of progress. If parity is the goal, encourage the corporate world to offer better retirement.
Womack adopted recommendations by a 2010 panel informally known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission. In addition to the points mentioned in the budget document, the commission also recommended reducing pensions by basing them on the highest five years of earning for new employees, instead of the highest three, which is now the case.
The budget plan also calls on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to find $32 billion in savings, which likely would result in another hit on federal employees’ wallets.
With recommendations such as these, federal employee organizations are preparing for a fierce fight against the House GOP budget plan.
“This budget is yet another attack on federal employees simply because they chose a career in public service,” said Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “It promotes policies that limit the government’s ability to attract the best and brightest, and it sets the stage for broken promises for those well into their careers.”
The reorganization plan, which pushes agency consolidation and privatization, could lead to federal workforce reductions and was roundly criticized by labor leaders.
“There’s little reason to believe this reorganization plan is anything more than a scheme to eliminate essential programs and public-service jobs, reward or punish political appointees depending on their allegiance to the White House, and privatize government programs to reward political donors,” said American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. “We are particularly alarmed over proposals to privatize both the U.S. Postal Service and our federal air traffic control system.”
Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Margaret Weichert insisted the reorganization plan is “not an attempt to cut jobs” but acknowledged that there could be dislocation.
That is not convincing or comforting to government labor leaders, who view the reorganization plan in the context of Trump’s assault by executive order on their organizations’ capacity to protect employees.
“The proposal to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management,” Cox complained, “particularly the plan to allow the Executive Office of the President to take over federal personnel policy, is a straightforward attempt to politicize the civil service.”