When it comes to federal employees, one party wants to give; the other plans to take away.
Legislation introduced by House Democrats and Republicans demonstrate their differing approaches to the federal workforce. With the GOP now running the House and Senate, federal employees don’t need to guess which party will prevail.
Most of the early action on feds has been in the House. Both chambers will attempt — again — to tackle postal reform, but that’s a special case for another day.
In the early days of this new Congress, House Republicans have proposed cutting the workforce 10 percent through attrition and Defense Department civilians by 15 percent through attrition or termination. Republicans also want to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take back employee bonuses and reduce the pensions of senior executives convicted of certain crimes. Legislation to fire tax-delinquent feds likely will advance. Expect to see another push to make new hires pay more toward retirement than current workers and an effort to speed the employee disciplinary process.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats, in the unrewarding position of controlling nothing, can deliver little.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) introduced legislation that would raise federal pay in 2016 by 3.8 percent, which probably is greater than its chances of approval.
There’s a pattern here and it’s not one that will make feds happy. They should know, however, that not everything proposed passes. That might provide them some hope regarding the Republican offerings, but it also applies to Connolly’s bill and others that federal worker advocates might offer.
“No other group in our country has been demonized, demoralized and asked to sacrifice more than our federal workforce,” Connolly said when he introduced the Federal Adjustment of Income Rate (FAIR) Act with 38 Democratic co-sponsors and zero Republicans. “They have endured a three-year wage freeze, four years without locality pay, higher retirement contributions for certain employees, wage-reducing work furloughs, sequester cuts and a government shutdown. Enough is enough. It is time for Congress to provide the dedicated men and women of our federal workforce with fair compensation.”
There would be fewer employees to demonize and demoralize under legislation introduced by Republican Reps. Cynthia M. Lummis (Wy.) and Mick Mulvaney (S.C.). Their bill would cut the number of staffers by 10 percent by limiting new hires to one for every three workers who leave the federal service. This is not a new plan, but it has new life now that Republicans have taken control of the Senate. The bill calls for a similar reduction in service contracts.
“This bill forces agencies to take a step back, consider which positions are crucial and make decisions based on necessity,” Lummis said.
The bill would require the 10 percent cut to be reached by Sept. 30, 2016, and maintained after that. If the hiring/attrition ratio or the reduction target is not met, the measure would impose a hiring freeze. The president could waive provisions in the legislation in case of national security or other emergencies.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) would give the Defense Department until 2022 to reach a 15 percent workforce reduction. In addition to using attrition, Calvert’s bill allows for firings. It would “provide the Secretary of Defense the authority to assign greater weight to job performance versus tenure in a Reduction in Force [than] then the Secretary currently has,” according to a statement from Calvert’s office.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) continues to push bills designed to knock wayward staffers at VA. As chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he led a productive investigation last year into the coverup of long VA facility patient wait times.
One of his bills would allow VA to take back staff bonuses from what his news release calls “failed employees.”
“Ideally, VA employees and executives who collected bonuses under false pretenses should be subject to prosecution when warranted,” Miller said, “but at a minimum their bonuses should be paid back in full.”
Another Miller measure would give VA the authority to reduce pensions of senior executives if “convicted of a felony that influenced the individual’s performance.”
One bill with bipartisan support would give veterans, with a service-connected disability of at least 30 percent, 104 hours of sick leave as they enter federal employment. Employees now enter with none and earn it as they work.
“It is unacceptable,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) in a statement, “that our Wounded Warrior federal employees who are just starting out in the federal workforce are often faced with the difficult choice of having to take unpaid leave to attend their VA appointments or miss their medical visits.”
Federal workers without that level of disability can only wish for that level of support.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.