At budget time, federal employees have come to expect a familiar series of hits from Republicans — shots that can ricochet off the public.
Require feds to contribute more out of pocket toward their retirement plan with no increase in benefits — check.
Reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition — check.
Eliminate a “special retirement supplement” for most federal retirees — check.
Compel postal employees to pay a greater share of their health insurance premiums — check.
Those are among the recurring proposals outlined in the GOP-sponsored House budget resolution adopted last week. Another one would cut allowances for employees posted abroad. Also, budget planners would limit the government’s contribution toward health insurance premiums for members of Congress and their staffs, saving $38.9 billion over 10 years. Similarly, additional hits of $21.7 billion and $1.2 billion would come from congressional retirees by changing the way government payments for their health benefits are determined. Federal employee leaders fear these provisions would be extended across the workforce.
By adopting these provisions and others, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said, Congress would be “demanding Washington live within its means” and “forcing government to be more efficient, effective and accountable.”
Current feds and potential staffers see in the measures a government that is a less desirable place to work.
The Senate also approved a budget resolution that makes federal employee leaders cringe, but its workplace provisions aren’t so clear. National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley said “it appears” the Senate resolution adopts a 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission recommendation, which the House does do, that would lead to federal workers contributing more toward their retirement with no increase in benefits, effectively a pay cut of about 6 percent.
Among the policy retreads, there was a surprise in the House package.
Republicans want to make the most popular employee investment fund in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) worthless. To save $32 billion over 10 years, House Republicans propose changing the fund’s interest-rate calculation, because, the resolution says, “those who participate in the G Fund are rewarded with a long-term rate on what is essentially a short-term security.”
Going after the TSP “is a new one,” said Kim Weaver, a TSP spokeswoman who has seen “nothing like this before.”
The savings for Uncle Sam would come at a great cost to his staff.
The fund’s current annualized interest rate is 1.88 percent. Adopting the House plan would result in a precipitous interest-rate drop to an annualized 0.01 percent, according to the TSP.
About 4.3 million people, including current and former federal civilians and members of the military, are invested in the G Fund. If the House gets its way, “it would mean their investment is virtually worthless,” Weaver said.
Although the House and Senate budget resolutions are non-binding blueprints, feds might be excused if they start feeling a bit worthless after an unending series of measures forcing them to sacrifice more financially than many Americans. A three-year freeze on their basic pay rates started in 2011, and their 10-year contribution to deficit reduction totals more than $100 billion, according to federal union calculations.
Feds aren’t the only people who sacrifice from cuts to the workforce. Taxpayers do, too. Sure, saving taxpayer money is a good thing. But saving money can also result in sharp cuts to services.
Witness the aggravating situation at the Internal Revenue Service, where a recent study found staffing cuts resulted in taxpayers holding 28 minutes for telephone customer service.
“These sort of cuts have a ripple effect on more than just the federal employees who are under direct attack,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Slashing the pay and benefits of federal employees will make it harder for agencies to retain and recruit talented workers, diminishing services and increasing hiring costs. It also hurts small-town economies all across America that rely on decent-paying federal jobs to support local shops and restaurants.”
A Democratic analysis of the House resolution says that the almost $300 billion it would take from the federal workers over 10 years would “penalize the federal workforce for choosing to pursue public service.”
That public service also would be penalized.
In a letter to senators, Kelley said that if Congress allows across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration to continue, “it is more than likely that more unpaid furlough days or shutdowns, reductions in force and the resulting loss of government services will occur next year and beyond. Food inspection, border security, air and water quality and the timeliness of tax refunds will all be negatively affected.”
Price said his budget plan would lead to a “more efficient, effective” government. But the IRS experience demonstrates the danger facing taxpayers when cuts do just the opposite.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.