The Washington Post

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


“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 Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.