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GOP budget would mean five-year pay freeze for federal workers

Columnist

“Another day another dollar workin’ my whole life away

The boss told me I’d get paid weakly and that’s exactly how I’m paid”

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

— Wynn Stewart

Federal employees might consider this old country tune as their anthem if the spending plan proposed Tuesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) becomes law.

The House Republican budget he presented would extend the current federal pay freeze by three additional years, for a total of five years with no boost in basic pay rates. His budget also would shrink the federal workforce by more than 200,000 positions and require employees to pay an undefined “more equitable contribution to their retirement plans.”

Dubbed “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal,” the Republican plan would cost federal workers $368 billion over 10 years.

“The reforms called for in this budget aim to slow the federal government’s unsustainable growth and reflect the growing frustration of workers across the country at the privileged rules enjoyed by government employees,” the blueprint says. “They reduce the public-­sector bureaucracy, not through layoffs, but via a gradual, sensible attrition policy. By 2015, this reform would result in a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce.”

Speaking of “growing frustration,” that’s a good description of the feelings many federal workers and their organizations have toward the steady flood of Republican efforts to cut federal pay and benefits. More than 20 such congressional proposals have been introduced.

“Federal employees already have had their pay frozen for two consecutive years, an unprecedented action that will save the government $60 billion over 10 years,” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “And new federal employees [with less than five years of previous federal service] will pay four times as much in retirement contributions, saving taxpayers an additional $15 billion. That’s a total of $75 billion in savings.

“It is fundamentally wrong for federal employees to be required, yet again, to serve as the Automated Teller Machine for the nation. Enough is enough.”

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) said the budget plan threatens “severe cuts” in federal service.

“It is almost as though the authors of this budget don’t know, don’t understand or don’t care about the key role federal employees play in helping keep our nation safe, ensuring that our food and medicines are safe and effective, that our air and water are safe, and performing so many other services that people not only expect and want, but need, as well,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley.

On that point, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) noted the impact that Ryan’s proposed cuts would have on security-related departments.

“It’s worth remembering,” said NARFE President Joseph A. Beaudoin, “that losing one in 10 federal workers means losing 100,000 employees at the U.S. Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Justice and Homeland Security.”

My colleague Eric Yoder (who blogged about the GOP budget) pointed out that those departments actually account for more than 1.3 million employees, meaning a 10 percent cut potentially could hit 130,000 staffers.

As Eric noted, the budget plan also would order six House committees to achieve savings in programs under their jurisdiction, in order to avoid across-the-board cuts that could otherwise occur under last year’s debt-ceiling deal. For the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Ryan plan suggests “making pensions for federal workers more like those for workers in the private sector.”

In a March 9 letter to Ryan, that committee’s chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said that while he supports the current pay freeze, the oversight panel “does not believe that a permanent freeze on civilian pay is sustainable or desirable.”

Instead of a never-ending freeze, Issa said his committee will “consider legislation to establish a total compensation system that is market and performance sensitive.” He offered no details.

Issa and the White House used similar language in opposing a permanent freeze. But President Obama went a step further and proposed a 0.5 percent federal pay raise beginning in 2013.

In a letter responding to Obama’s budget proposal, Democrats on the oversight committee said such a small raise “may not be enough to allow middle-class federal workers to keep pace with the increasing price of goods and services.”

Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this column. Read previous columns by Davidson at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

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