Federal employees’ groups denounce pension reform bill

“Un-American” was how the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association described a bill to base federal employees’ pensions on their highest-earning five years of service, rather than the current three years.

The bill’s sponsor, a member of the House Budget Committee, put it differently.

“The bill ensures that the program employees of the federal government have paid into for their careers is available in retirement and sustainable for future generations,” Rep. Bruce Westerman (R- Ark.) said, in a statement.

The measure carves out an exception for active-duty and retired military.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would save $3.1 billion over a decade. While that’s certainly a lot of money in absolute terms, it’s a small fraction of the total cost of civilian pensions. The government spent $75 billion in fiscal 2013, according to figures Westerman’s office obtained from the Office of Personnel Management.

GOP lawmakers have put forth similar proposals in recent years, only to see them die in the Democrat-led Senate. Westerman’s bill may have a better chance of passage now that Republicans control both chambers.

Unions and associations representing federal employees said they had expected to see measures that target retirement benefits. A number of them assailed the bill as soon as Westerman announced it.

“Congressman Westerman’s unwarranted attack on the pay of federal law enforcement officers is nothing more than a pathetic prescribed placebo intended to solve economic problems we didn’t create,” said FLEOA President Jon Adler in a statement. “How can the Congressman look the Border Patrol Agents in his state in the eye, and explain to them that he is honoring their dedication and sacrifice by reducing their pension?”

“It is both un-American and a declaration of skewed priorities for any elected official to seek to remedy Congress’ spending problem by attacking federal officers’ pay,” he continued.

The statement concludes by asking that “all patriotic members of Congress” denounce the legislation.

The American Federation of Government Employees also raised alarm in a statement, saying that federal employees already had given up billions of dollars in compensation since 2011 due to pay freezes, increases in retirement contributions, furloughs and other measures.

“Federal employees are working class people just like most other Americans, and singling them out for more pain and sacrifice is just plain wrong,” AFGE President J. David Cox said.

If Westerman’s bill became law, it would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. Federal employees who retire before then would not be affected.

In contrast, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) sponsored a bill to ease pension contributions for federal employees. A recent law created a multi-tiered system, with new federal employees contributing a higher chunk of their salary than veteran workers do. Edwards’ measure would require all feds to pay 0.8 percent toward their retirement, the lowest share that anyone now pays.

This is Westerman’s first year in Congress. He previously served as the Republican majority leader of the Arkansas House of Representatives. He is an engineer and forester by trade.

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