Federal employees have a particular reason to vote in congressional elections. Members of the House and Senate serve as boards of directors for the federal workplace.
This year, two strong supporters of federal workers from Virginia, Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat, and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Republican, are retiring from the 8th and 10th congressional districts, respectively. The Federal Diary asked each of the major party candidates for those seats a series of questions. We will report their answers this week and next. As usual with politicians, they did not always respond directly to the questions asked. Some comments have been edited for clarity and length.
We begin with Barbara Comstock, the Republican candidate in the 10th District, which stretches from the outer Washington suburbs to West Virginia. Comstock, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, once worked for Wolf, a fact she mentions frequently. We will cover her opponent, Democrat John Foust, a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, online Thursday and in Friday’s print editions of The Washington Post.
Q: What are your top priorities for the federal workforce if you are elected?
A: I’m a former federal employee who has worked as a senior aide to congressman Wolf on federal employees’ issues, a chief counsel on the largest congressional committee, and a senior official at the Department of Justice. I have the highest respect for all of our federal employees. I will continue congressman Wolf’s record of being a champion for our federal employees and ensuring they are always treated with fairness and respect.
I’m going to be a strong voice for federal employees within the Republican caucus, and continue to build on the work of congressman Wolf and Tom Davis [a former GOP member of Congress].
I am going to work to ensure that we have telework and family-friendly work policies for our federal employees.
The retirement processing backlog has been a failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations. We must do more to fix it, and we should take advantage of the large contractor community in Virginia to help fix this problem.
I also will work with my colleagues to bring the FBI to Virginia, and with my former Justice Department background, I plan on continuing congressman Wolf’s strong working relationship with the FBI and the Justice Department.
To achieve budget savings, do you favor any changes to federal employee compensation?
Federal employees should be fairly and professionally compensated. Like congressman Wolf, I support pay parity for federal employees and the military, and our federal employees do deserve a raise. I would like to do what we did in Virginia, which is to provide incentives and bonuses to our federal employees for finding savings in their departments and then rewarding the federal employee workforce with those savings.
The federal budget can’t be balanced on the backs of federal employees, and they shouldn’t be offered up as sacrificial lambs by politicians in either party. Like congressman Wolf, I’m going to fight against policies that unfairly target federal employees, whether the ideas are pushed by Democrats or Republicans. The federal government should have the ability to attract needed talent, and employees should be fairly compensated. Finally, I don’t think we should change the COLA [cost of living adjustment] formula, and I think we should maintain the retirement system that we have now that has worked well.
Do yo u believe that the balance of workplace protections for civil servants is about right, or as some have said, is it too difficult to hold federal employees accountable for poor performance or misco nduct? In what ways would you favor changing the Civil Service, if at all?
We have to respect whistleblower rights, and I’m concerned that this administration has created a culture that doesn’t respect whistleblower rights. It’s from whistleblowers that we learn of bad policy decisions and waste, fraud and abuse by the government, and they are our partners in improving the federal government and should be rewarded for their contributions, not punished.
When I was working for congressman Wolf, I worked to protect federal employees when attempts were made to politicize them or career employees were wrongfully fired.
Do you think the expedited process that cuts into the ability of Senior Executive Service members in the Department of Veterans Affairs to appeal disciplinary actions should be expanded to other SES members or federal employees generally?
The misconduct at the VA was simply inexcusable and an insult to anyone who has served our nation. I fully expect those responsible to be held accountable. Going forward, we must make sure that federal employees have protected appeals rights to ensure that political appointees can’t run roughshod over our nation’s civil servants.
Do you think the government has the right mix of federal employees and contractor workers?
I don’t support the efforts of this administration to insource lots of the work currently being done through our working public-private partnerships with government contractors and our contracting community. We can protect and promote our federal employees and at the same time have a vibrant contracting community. The important thing on contractor compensation is to provide the compensation that gets the jobs done as needed in the most efficient and professional manner. I would review these issues with both federal employees and contractors.
Note: Comstock did not initially answer a question on federal workplace diversity, but her office did respond later. The question and answer are below:
Diversity is lacking in the senior levels of the federal Civil Service, with percentages of women, African Americans and Latinos below their percentages in the national population. If you are elected to Congress, what would you do to make the top levels of the Civil Service look more like America?
I will work to make opportunity available to everyone throughout the federal government and make sure we have the most talented workforce possible to ensure taxpayers are getting the efficient services they expect. Our diversity of talent in our community provides us with the ability to have the best workforce. I served on my law firm’s diversity committee that focused on making sure we had a diverse and talented workforce where all could excel and advance. I started a Young Women’s Leadership Program to help provide young women with the skills and know how to advance in the career of their choice. We can also make the hiring process more transparent and responsive so people from every background have access to advancing a career in the federal government.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.