Cost Cutters Focus on Feds

Friday - 10/29/2010, 4:00am EDT

For many people, Halloween is the time when little (and some not so little) kids dress up like monsters, super-heroes or sports figures and accept donations of candy from their neighbors. And try to scare each other.

Some of those trick-or-treaters grow up and become government workers. And for them, Halloween (the first unofficial holiday of the new fiscal year) is the time when politicians, the media and fellow workers scare them with work-related rumors of impending doom.

Normally those rumors, sometimes disguised as news stories, travel by e-mail. And normally those rumors are about pay freezes, furloughs, hiring freezes and changes to the retirement system. The rumors almost never come true, and they typically go into hibernation by January.

But this is not a "normally" year. Judging by voter turnout, mid-term elections are a yawner for many people. Even the most breathless TV political analyst risks putting viewers to sleep analyzing what may happen. But not this year.

Congress, at least the House, is up for grabs if you believe the pundits and pollsters. After the election comes a lame duck session in which anything could happen. Then on December 1, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform makes its recommendations to Congress. If a majority of committee members endorse a proposal, it will go to the House and Senate for an up-or-down-vote. In that respect it is similar to BRAC's impact on military bases and communities.

Congress may consider a federal pay freeze (for the fourth time this year,) furloughs, and President Obama says he will have to consider various cost-cutting proposals that could have an impact on feds. The Fiscal Committee could come up with even more drastic suggestions to cut federal payroll/retirement costs. The good news-bad news is we will know shortly. It's important not to panic, but you should stay tuned because this year some of the rumors might come true.

Meantime here's a comment from a long-time Congressional aide who knows how Congress operations from the inside:

    "I assume that Congress is going to slash their own salaries and change their pension plan so they have to rely on the same luxurious retirement system that they gave Executive Branch career workers (while giving themselves a much better retirement deal)? I assume they are going to furlough their staffs as well as the rest of us? I assume they will hereafter enact spending and budget bills on time, after careful deliberation and careful consideration of national needs (like the absolute necessity of invading and rebuilding Iraq)? I assume they will slash the number of political appointees in the Executive Branch and reduce their staffs by at least 10 percent? I assume they will replace the awful socialistic health care Obamacare system with the same good solid American health plan they have?

    "Or maybe they'll just keep on sucking up all the special interest money they can while trashing the American middle class in favor of government of the special interests, by the special interests, for the special interests; keep traveling free on taxpayer dollars; enjoy the best health care service in the world because theirs is pretty much completely socialized, subsidized, and they even have doctors at their place of business in case they need an aspirin; fail to do the basic essential tasks of their positions; and blame federal workers for doing what they tell federal workers to do; etc?"

Furlough Or Freeze?

Which would hurt you most: Being denied the 1.4 percent pay raise, or being furloughed for 10 days in 2011? Here's a comment from a Social Security worker who has crunched the numbers:

    Love your column and read it religiously. As a working fed at SSA with 36 years in, I've seen a lot of things happen in this country and personally feel blessed to have a great job with the government. While I agree with some of the sentiment, since it does seem like we always get dumped on with small raises in flush economic times and talk of no raises/furloughs in downturns, I just wanted to offer a little food for thought. I would rather forgo the proposed 1.4 raise and keep working. Do these people writing in not realize that two weeks furlough is one full pay period or nearly 4 percent of our annual salary, not to mention the fact that there is also the possiblity of losing the annual and sick leave accruals for that pay period as a result of 80 hours of non pay status. Pay me the same rate and let me keep working! I just wanted to put my two cents in. Keep up the good work! Thanks for listening and have a great day. Alex at SSA