Federal worker, retiree orgs 'haven't heard a thing' on debt limit

Wednesday - 7/20/2011, 1:51pm EDT

Your Turn with Mike Causey

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Federal employee groups have been fighting to wrest information from the government about the potential impact of a government default on federal employees. If Congress and the White House can't come to an agreement to raise the debt limit by Aug. 2, the administration contends that a number of federal programs and services could be interrupted.

But specifics are still hard to come by, even for feds - whose paychecks and benefits could hang in the balance.

The Federal-Postal Coalition, a group of management groups, professional associations, and unions representing five million current and retired federal employees, sent a letter last week to White House Budget Director Jack Lew and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, demanding details about what federal programs and benefits - from pay to potential furloughs - might be on the chopping block if the debt limit isn't raised and the government defaults.

The spokesman for the coalition, Bruce Moyer, an attorney and registered lobbyist, joined Your Turn with Mike Causey to discuss the administration's tight-lipped response and what the failure to raise the debt ceiling could mean for federal employees.

The last time federal employees were faced with such an existential crisis was during the runup to the averted government shutdown in April.

"And in a way, this has some aspects of a déjà vu again," Moyer said. "If the debt ceiling is not raised, increasing numbers of managers and executives, as well as rank-and-file employees are wondering, 'Well, what happens on Aug. 3.'"

The Federal-Postal Coalition's letter sought the answers to three crucial questions:

  • First, will all agencies and departments remain open or will the government shut down? And if the lights are turned off, what plans are in place for continuity operations?

  • How will the assets of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and the G Fund of the Federal Employees' Retirement System be affected, especially as additional investments in the funds were suspended on May 16.

  • Finally, will federal employees be furloughed, and how will their wages and benefits be affected?

The White House's response?

"We haven't heard a thing from this administration," Moyer said. Similarly, inquiries from the press have gone mostly unanswered.

One of the biggest misunderstandings of the debt-limit debate thus far, Moyer said, is the misconception that only after the debt ceiling has been reached early next month will the Treasury Department begin rearranging and re-prioritizing the government's payments, he said.

In fact, on May 16, Geithner announced that Treasury would begin shifting funds, including tapping into the G Fund, in order to pay existing obligations, Moyer said. "Will that continue after Aug. 2, and under what new terms?" he added.

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