An Unlikely Alliance is Beginning to Form Behind the Federal Workforce
This article went to print hours before the administration signed three executive orders into law significantly curbing rights for federal workers.
One FMA member wondered if the Office of Personnel Management is trying to destroy feds while another likened being a federal employee to a “culture of Whack-a-Mole.” These were some of the comments received when Office of Personnel Management Director Dr. Jeff Pon sent a twenty-page letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, advocating for a suite of retirement cuts that would drastically change the retirement packages for all federal employees. And yes, that means all federal employees, including retirees – and not just future hires.
Of course, the cuts Dr. Pon outlined in the letter, and the administration’s defense of the proposed cuts at a congressional hearing, did not come as a surprise. These were (and are) the same cuts included in President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, formally released in February 2018. That budget request also calls for an across-the-board pay freeze in 2019. And many of these same benefits proposals were included in the President’s 2018 budget request, as well. Perhaps what was especially concerning was the timing of the letter, at the beginning of Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), the one week out of the year set aside “to honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees.” Incidentally, on May 4, 2018, President Trump proclaimed PSRW, thanking the federal workforce for its service.
For anyone reading this who may be unfamiliar with what is at stake, let’s take a quick look at the various proposals:
- Elimination of Federal Employees’ Retirement System Annuity Supplements
- Increase of CSRS and FERS Average Pay Period to Five Years (High 3 to High 5)
- Increased employee contributions to Federal Employees Retirement System
- Elimination of Cost-of-Living Adjustments for FERS employees
- Reduction of Cost-of-Living Adjustments for CSRS employees
OPM estimates these cuts would result in a savings of $143,509,000,000 over ten years. That’s a lot of zeroes. And a lot of broken promises.
The Federal Managers Association was critical of the OPM letter, continuing to staunchly oppose these drastic measures, as it has since the President proposed them in his budget request. FMA vehemently opposes the call for an across-the-board pay freeze in 2019, as well. What has been the most encouraging, however, was that the request has thus far received broad opposition – from both sides of the aisle – from decision makers on Capitol Hill.
FMA attended a congressional hearing on May 16 which was supposed to be on the administration’s Personnel Management Agenda (PMA), but quickly turned into one where Dr. Pon and OMB’s Margaret Weichert had the very lonely position of defending the proposed benefit cuts. While all in attendance (including Democrats, Republicans, unions, management, and the administration) were in agreement that there were common avenues and proposals towards civil service reform, only the administration defended the pay freeze and compensation cuts.
Dr. Pon and Ms. Weichert had a fascinating exchange with House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) about the $143.5 billion in savings where Dr. Pon admitted that the amount was being taken away from federal employees to potentially fund other portions of the federal government. Next it was acting chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) exclaiming that the plan did not make sense fiscally or for federal employee morale.
We at FMA applauded a forceful letter written by Representative Mike Turner (R-OH), urging Dr. Pon to rescind his proposals. He argued the proposals would make it more difficult to recruit to the federal workforce. Turner wrote, “Despite their hard work and dedication, few groups have been asked to sacrifice more than federal employees. Since the start of the Great Recession in 2008, federal workers have foregone $182 billion in the form of pay and benefit cuts. They have suffered a three year pay freeze, followed by two years of one percent pay increases that were well below the recommended level.” Turner continued, “With the United States’ growing economy and a tightening labor market, we cannot afford to make the federal government a less attractive place to work by diminishing the very benefits that help the government keep pace with jobs in the (often higher-paying) private sector.”
Turner concluded: “These are highly skilled and dedicated public servants. Shrinking pensions, gutting federal retirement benefits, and squeezing overall compensation packages would have the effect of pushing out these vital civil servants and impairing the recruitment of new talent.”
Finally, at a hearing in March 2018, Senator James Lankford (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, voiced similar concerns about the administration’s push for a pay freeze. “I don’t think that gains us anything,” the Chairman said. “I think it hurts us in recruitment.” Lankford focused on the need for agencies to eliminate waste: “Finding greater efficiencies would allow us to be able to compensate quality employees and retain good people, but also have the opportunity to have more money to invest.”
As some within the administration continue to grow more hostile towards federal employees or continue to take them for granted, we are beginning to see a coalition forming. Democrats, Republicans, unions, and management, are joining forces to find a path forward towards civil service reform, but not at the expense of federal workers.
Written by the Federal Managers Association (FMA). To learn more, visit their website: FedManagers.org
Posted in Hear it from FMA