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Federal employees losing Rep. Moran, a strong supporter who is ‘very frustrated’

Columnist

There aren’t many like Jim Moran anymore.

And this strong supporter of federal employees — whom he calls “underpaid and underappreciated” — won’t be around much longer.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns. View Archive

The Democratic congressman representing Alexandria and neighboring Northern Virginia precincts has decided to quit Congress. In some ways, he is an unabashed liberal at a time when many Democrats run from the label. He quit the Congressional Progressive Caucus last year because he thought it not progressive enough.

Yet, Moran also co-founded a group designed to foster business-friendly policies in his party. He’s had his share of controversies, maybe more than his share, but none serious enough to keep him from being elected every two years since his first congressional victory in 1990.

When he announced his resignation this year, he was following another Virginian, Rep. Frank Wolf (R), to the door — soon leaving the federal workforce without two seasoned representatives advocating on its behalf.

Moran’s liberal leanings have not prevented him for working closely with Wolf and Tom Davis, another Virginia Republican, who resigned from Congress in 2008. Moran and Wolf led the successful effort to recover pay that federal employees missed during the partial government shutdown in October.

The federal employees he supports includes elected ones.

He told Roll Call on Thursday that “members of Congress are underpaid.” Yet, curiously, his office refused to comment Friday.

Moran has more fully explained his push for higher pay for rank-and-file feds. He thinks the 1 percent increase President Obama has proposed is too little. Along with fellow Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly (Va.), Elijah Cummings (Md.) and John Tierney (Mass.), Moran introduced legislation that would raise pay for regular feds by 3.3 percent next year.

“After three years of pay freezes and too many furloughs,” he said in a statement, “they’ve earned this modest, decent raise.” Moran identifies with the rank and file. He first joined the federal workforce in 1968 as a federal management intern.

Moran also takes care of the many federal contractor employees in his district.

The House Republican majority has stalled the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so he recently urged Obama to issue an executive order banning discrimination against federal contract workers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Moran is a founding member of the congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

“With House Republicans loathe to provide all Americans basic employment nondiscrimination protections, the president has a great opportunity to take action and extend these rights to employees of federal contractors,” Moran said in a statement. “Workers should be judged solely on their performance, irrespective of one’s sexuality or gender identity.”

Some of his positions do not fit neatly into any political cubbyhole.

“Another thing I’d like to see done, is smash some of these silos we have,” he said, referring to agencies that focus on one aspect of a multifaceted problem. One department deals with housing, another health, a third education, “yet they’re all the same family” being served, he said. But “we deal with them in a relatively narrow prism.”

His annoyance with Republicans over the LGBT bill is just one more thing leading to his exasperation with Congress and his exit from it. He talked with the Federal Diary about his decision to retire and issues affecting the federal workforce. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Diary: Are you leaving frustrated?

Moran: Yeah, I’m very frustrated, extraordinarily frustrated.

What words do you have for federal employees as you prepare to leave?

Hang in there. They’re needed. We have no alternative to a professional, properly compensated, ethically disciplined workforce. What would we do without the federal workforce? We would not be the country we are. At some point, the country’s got to recognize that.

How would you compare this period with years ago in terms of the way the workforce is viewed?

It’s never been this bad. . . . I worry about it. We have sent a message, and we do it every day in every way, that the federal workforce is not to be valued, not to be respected. It’s symbols, like freezing their pay. . . . You wouldn’t do that if you were trying to recruit the best and the brightest or even to retain the workforce that you have.

Federal employee morale, how would you rate that?

It’s surprisingly higher than I would expect it to be, given all of the punishing policies that Congress has directed its way. I’m surprised the federal workforce is hanging in as well as they are. They have every reason to be demoralized, especially what has happened over the last three years. . . . We have the best civil service in the world and the least corrupted large civil service in the world, and we’re basically getting it on the cheap.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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