Federal employees should be wary, but not surprised.
The House and Senate Republican budget plan announced this week would continue hits on government workers, as expected, with cuts that could lighten their wallets by up to $194 billion.
The joint budget agreement calls for cutting that amount over 10 years from programs under the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
It oversees federal employee issues in its broad portfolio. But the agreement gives no instructions on reaching the budget savings. Just where the ax might fall remains to be seen. Given the committee’s oversight, however, federal pension benefits and the Federal Employees Health Benefits program are likely targets.
“This stands in notable contrast to the House budget resolution, which specifically directed the committee with jurisdiction over the federal workforce and its retirees to achieve substantial savings and provided specific policy recommendations toward that end,” the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association told its members.
In March, a House budget resolution proposed increasing the employee share of pension contributions by 6 percentage points of salary, with an offsetting reduction in what agencies pay. That and ending a “special retirement supplement” would save $127 billion over 10 years. Another proposal would require federal employees to pay a greater share of premiums for their employer-sponsored health insurance.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) had no comment on what the budget plan might mean for feds.
Though the details remain unknown, the Republicans’ spending outline had enough information for Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, to say that “the GOP budget is just another in a long list of attacks on middle-class federal workers. . . . These cuts are unacceptable, and I will fight them every step of the way.”
With the chant “enough is enough,” federal employee organizations say the workforce has already contributed well over $100 billion toward deficit reduction since 2010. That includes three years of a freeze in basic pay rates and increased pension contributions by newer employees.
“This country has the greatest civil service in the world,” Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a letter to House and Senate members last week, “but that will not continue to be the case if Congress continues to use their pay and benefits as a piggy bank to fund other things.”
A coalition of civil rights organizations is pushing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to provide greater workplace accommodations, such as light duty, for pregnant employees.
In a letter to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Partnership for Women & Families said, “The Postal Service continues to maintain a legally indefensible position that allows for discriminatory treatment against its own employees.”
The Postal Service disagreed.
USPS “policy fully complies with existing law related to the accommodation of employees with workplace limitations, including pregnancy-related limitations,” said Darlene Casey, a Postal Service spokeswoman. “Employees with pregnancy-related limitations may also, if eligible, apply for light-duty assignments under the terms of applicable collective-bargaining agreements and postal policies.”
The organizations backed their position by quoting from a Justice Department brief submitted to the Supreme Court in a recent separate case. Justice said the government no longer supports the Postal Service policy allowing pregnant employees to be treated differently from “employees with similar limitations caused by on-the-job injuries.”
Quoting the Justice Department, the letter said: “ ‘The United States Postal Service continues to offer different treatment to employees with on-the-job injuries than to employees with pregnancy-related limitations and employees with disabilities more generally. . . . The Postal Service is considering its options with respect to those policies.’ ”
Casey said the Postal Service “will fully consider any changes to our policies which may be warranted . . . in cooperation with our unions and employee associations.”
Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference, and Judy Lichtman, chair of its board, said they were encouraged that the Postal Service is reevaluating its policies but called on USPS to do more. Lichtman also is a senior adviser with the National Partnership.
“These factors,” their letter said, “warrant an immediate change in the Postal Service policy.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Eric Yoder contributed to this report.