Want to help feds do their jobs? Stop attacking them

The Senate subcommittee that oversees federal management hosted a hearing Wednesday on how agencies can better address 21st century problems. Two employee repre...

Agencies may be doing a poor job of making the federal government an attractive place to work, but fed-bashing by lawmakers isn’t helping one bit. That’s one of the takeaways from a Senate hearing today focusing on 21st century ideas for the 20th century civil service.

“Our elected officials must stop attacking the federal workforce,” J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Wednesday. “Since 2011, federal workers have sacrificed $159 billion in cuts to their compensation, sometimes in the name of deficit reduction and sometimes to pay for other priorities.”

Patricia Niehaus, national president of the Federal Managers Association, agreed with Cox.

“It’s discouraging to be constantly maligned and have our benefits attacked,” she testified. “FMA members comment on how this affects morale, which negatively impacts productivity, employee retention and the ability to complete congressionally-mandated missions. FMA urges Congress to avoid legislative efforts that would hurt retention and morale.”

In her written testimony, Niehaus cited Partnership for Public Service statistics on federal hiring that say only 7 percent of new federal government hires in 2014 were under 25, compared to 23 percent in the private sector.

“With the largest demographic of the federal workforce between the ages of 45- 59, it is critical to take steps to ensure a sustainable federal workforce as these workers consider jumping to the private sector or prepare for retirement,” she wrote.

In our recent special report, The Reverse Retirement Wave, Federal New Radio noted that more federal workers are choosing to continue to work longer even though they may be qualified to retire.

“What I worry about is what that demographic is going to look like in three to five years, because I do think there is a retirement bubble,” said Ron Sanders, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and a former chief human capital officer for the Office of the Director for National Intelligence, in the report. “I think the numbers bear that out. You have a fairly substantial number of folks who are postponing retirement, and I think that can only last so long. I worry about the trough that’s behind them, because we have now been managing the federal government’s workforce largely through hiring freezes and attrition through the better part of half a decade. … We’ve been through that before and we know the negative consequences of that.”

Legislation affects federal workers’ benefits, compensation.

Niehaus described several pieces of legislation working their way through Congress that target the federal workforce.

“The Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act (HR 417) as introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.), calls for agencies to only be allowed to hire one new employee for every three employees who leave federal service,” she wrote. “This does not take into account the impact on many of the critical missions of this country. The Social Security Administration (SSA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) already face a depleted workforce and are unable to meet their missions.”

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has made frequent visits to Capitol Hill over the last year trying to convince lawmakers to better fund his agency.

According to Koskinen, the $1.2 billion decrease since 2010 in the IRS budget has led to a decrease in its workforce of 13,000 employees, including 5,000 in the enforcement division, and a decrease in services to citizens, such as increased wait times to answer phone calls in the heart of tax-filing season. Nearly six in 10 calls go unanswered.

Rep. Ken. Calvert (R-Calif.) introduced the REDUCE Act (HR 340) that seeks to trim the Defense Department’s civilian workforce by 15 percent.

“The civilian defense workforce is of vital importance,” Niehaus wrote. “They work alongside the military at home and aboard, protecting the country from threats. Arbitrarily eliminating 15 percent of the workforce without eliminating 15 percent of the mission means more military members will have to work longer hours to compensate for the absence of the civilians who have been supporting the mission of defending our country.”

Other pieces of legislation target federal employees’ benefits and compensation as ways to cut the nation’s deficit.

The Government Employee Pension Reform Act (HR 1230) would change the formula the government uses to calculate retirement annuities from the highest three years to the highest consecutive five years of earnings.

“It is estimated that this would save the government $3.1 billion over ten years,” Niehaus wrote. “That $3.1 billion would come directly out of the pockets of federal employees who have served their country long enough to earn their retirements, which in most cases means over 30 years.”

Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C) introduced the PAID for Progress Act (H.R. 1137), which calls for an 8.7 percent pay cut for every federal employee who earns more than $100,000.”

“Arbitrary, blanket attacks such as these drive people away from the federal workforce and further destroy recruitment and retention,” Niehaus wrote. “This bill would impact employees across the country at the grades of GS-13 and above and in a few high cost areas, at GS-12 and above.”

She added that such a cut would decrease the ability to retain senior managers, who would be more inclined to jump to the private sector, where they could secure higher salaries.

“Federal employees endured three years of pay freezes and minimal cost-of- living adjustments, sequestration and a shutdown,” Niehaus said. “If Congress continues to consider legislation that reduces benefits and arbitrarily eliminates jobs, it will make civil service the last choice for many young people and will cause many current federal employees to leave civil service.”

RELATED STORIES:

The Reverse Retirement Wave

Feds choose to stay longer, creating new retirement bubble

IRS Commissioner questions congressional double-edged sword

IRS declares enough is enough for hiring freezes

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