After nearly a month of stories about federal workplace scandals, we now return to the more familiar saga of House Republicans going after employee compensation.
Yet, as aggravating as the Republicans’ plan might be to the workforce, the effort to make federal employees pay more for retirement benefits doesn’t have nearly the lasting power of the Government Services Administration and Secret Service debacles.
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will consider legislation that would require workers to pay 5 percent more of their pay for retirement benefits. The increase would be phased-in over five years and is designed to save $82 billion over 10 years. Employees hired in 2013 and later, with fewer than five years of previous federal service, would pay the full five percentage point increase from the start of their employment.
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) referred to “the federal government’s out of control spending” as he announced the plan. The $82 billion, along with other savings, would be used to prevent Defense Department cuts that are scheduled to take effect in January. “We need to secure these earned employee benefits and reduce the deficit at the same time,” Issa said.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the panel, rejected the Republican plan, saying: “Every single member of this committee is committed to reducing the deficit. But we have to do so in a balanced way. We cannot lavish ridiculous new tax breaks on the rich while slashing programs and benefits for poor and middle-class families.”
Unlike the GSA scandal over excessive conference spending and the Secret Service prostitution disgrace — the damaging effects of both could linger for a long time — this legislation isn’t going far because there is no comparable measure in the Senate.
Nonetheless, the bill marks another attempt, in a long line of continuing Republican efforts, to find budget savings through hits on federal employee pay and benefits. That includes members of Congress and their staff members. Those in the Civil Service Retirement System would pay an additional 8.5 percent of salary over five years under the plan. Congressional members in the Federal Employee Retirement System would pay 8.5 percent more, and Capitol Hill employees in FERS would see a 7.5 percent increase.
Federal employees already are in the midst of a two-year freeze on basic pay rates that will cost them $60 billion over 10 years. Increased pension contributions from most employees starting next year will save an additional $15 billion.
The Republican plan amounts to more than a pay freeze, said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “Make no mistake,” she said in a letter to committee members, “an increased contribution towards one’s pension with no corresponding increase in benefits, is a pay cut.”
Studies show that leadership is a key factor in motivating employees. But when it comes to the leadership of federal employees, many government leaders don’t rate well.
“Our government’s leaders, and in particular senior leaders, received low ratings from federal employees on a range of issues, including the ability to generate worker motivation and commitment, encourage integrity, manage people fairly and promote professional development, creativity and empowerment,” says a Partnership of Public Service report scheduled for release Thursday.
Some agencies do better than others, much better.
At the top of the list of large agencies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission scored 72 of 100 on various leadership issues. The U.S. Mint took the most improved prize, with its leadership score rising 25 percent.
The Department of Homeland Security was at the bottom, with 47.6. The low score further strengthens the department’s already bad reputation for poor employee spirit. Just a month ago, a House hearing was called specifically to examine low morale in the agency.
“We are focusing on improving employee engagement by continuing to improve employee communication and training, highlight employee recognition, and strengthen the leadership skills of employees at every level,” said Peter Boogaard, a department spokesman. “We’re also holding leadership accountable through a new Employee Engagement Executive Steering Committee . . . that meets regularly to share ideas among offices and identify ways to continue to improve the work environment.”
Perhaps they should invite NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko to a meeting. He said his managers make a point of “communicating with employees and listening to them as well.”
“Every day we focus a lot on communication,” he said. “It’s a constant.”
Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this column.