Storm clouds gather over Capitol Hill on Monday, the beginning of a rough week for federal employees. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
Columnist

It’s been a tough week for federal employees.

On Monday, there was yet another display that their top boss is hopelessly unsuited for the White House with President Trump’s obsequious behavior in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump undermined federal employees who reported Putin’s attack on the 2016 presidential election.

On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved two measures that would speed the firing of feds by weakening civil service protections.

On Thursday, the House effectively dumped on raising pay for federal employees in 2019 by passing an appropriations bill that included no increase.

While the workforce and the rest of us are stuck with Trump for at least two more years, the House actions are not the final word on pay and disciplinary measures.

Approval of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill without a pay increase is no surprise. The legislation was drafted weeks ago and follows Trump’s call for a pay freeze next year. Nonetheless, approval of the bill is an important indication of the workforce’s worth to the Republican-controlled House.

But hope is not lost for federal employees.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a 1.9 percent pay raise last month. If the full Senate agrees, the two chambers would have to reconcile their differences.

Leaders of federal employee organizations focused on the possibility that the Senate measure will rule.

“To freeze federal pay at a time when our economy is improving and unemployment is low is a direct attack on the civil service,” said Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “However, there is hope, as the Senate version of the legislation contains a 1.9 percent raise for feds next year, and NARFE urges Congress to approve this raise in any final appropriations package.”

“There is not a single Republican member of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations subcommittee who has a legislative track record of support for federal workers, so given that they craft the bill, it is not surprising that a pay raise was not included,” said Matt Biggs, secretary-treasurer and legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “However, there is a bipartisan-supported 1.9 percent pay increase in the Senate bill, so we will work to try to get it in the final spending measure.”

The two largest unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, also will push for final passage of the Senate’s version.

The chairmen of House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee did not respond to a request for comment on the Republican decision to leave feds without even a small increase next year. That decision is consistent with the party’s approach to compensation for the workforce.

A prime example is the recent move by House Budget Committee Republicans to cut federal pensions by $145 billion over 10 years, $1.5 billion more than Trump recommended.

“Since 2011, federal employees have suffered pay cuts, pay freezes, furloughs, increases to retirement contributions and more, totaling more than $182 billion,” complained Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “This means $182 billion out of the pockets of working Americans and their families.  The House has shown it doesn’t care.”

House Republicans also don’t care for the current level of federal employees’ civil service protections.

Two bills approved by the Oversight Committee with party-line votes would allow management to fire feds faster by weakening their workplace due-process rights. The measures require full House and Senate action before becoming law.

One bill would accelerate disciplinary procedures, including termination, by cutting time allowed for appeals. The general probationary period for feds would double to two years, allowing more time to take disciplinary action against new employees who have fewer rights.

Another piece of legislation would lower the burden of proof that managers need to fire workers, among other provisions.

“Working for the United States federal government is an honor and a privilege, and most federal employees value the opportunity and work hard to serve the American people,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said following the committee vote. “However, some federal employees have learned they can use the system to protect their jobs regardless of their poor performance or bad behavior.”

He called the committee’s action “a huge step to creating a more efficient and effective government that works for the people, streamlining the process and lessening the time it takes to dismiss poor performing or negligent employees.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, disagreed. The legislation “raises serious concerns about fairness and due process,” he said, adding it “will weaken merit system principles and politicize the federal workforce.”

Read more:

[House panel backs stronger management hand in federal employee discipline]

[Rebuking Trump, Senate panel okays federal pay raise, but House plans big hit on pensions]

[OPM guidance pushes quick, forceful action on Trump’s orders to weaken unions, due process]