Proposal to cut federal workforce raises concerns

Monday - 11/7/2011, 5:29am EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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Some say the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's approval of a 10 percent cut in the federal workforce is a political statement. Others worry that it portends cuts in federal pay, benefits, or jobs. In a letter to the committee before the meeting, the National Treasury Employees Union called the bill "wrongheaded, misguided and based on false assumptions."

Union president Colleen Kelley was more subdued in describing the committee's approval of the measure.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.)

"I think they erred in judgment," she said. "I think they are not paying attention to the real facts about the number of federal employees and the critical work they do every day, and the fact that it's the public who suffers when there aren't enough frontline federal workers to do the work that they depend on every day."

If passed into law, the bill would hold agencies to replacing one out of every three employees who retire. There are 1.8 million civilian federal workers.

"At a time when our economy is in recession and budget deficits are at staggering record levels, taxpayers can no longer be asked to foot the bill for a bloated federal workforce," said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.). Proponents say the measure would save nearly $140 billion over 10 years.

It may be easy to dismiss the move as GOP showboating. Ross and others have sponsored measures like this before. None have passed into law.

But Democrats aren't united in their opposition.

"If you look at the substance of the issue, I think both sides of the aisle make sense," said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who was the lone Democrat to back the measure.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.)

Before the committee approved the measure, members amended it to require an equivalent reduction in payments to contractors.

Nonetheless, the move is hypocritical, said Bob Tobias, American University director of key executive leadership programs.

"I think it's hypocritical for a committee in Congress to do a 10 percent cut in the workforce without a corresponding 10 percent reduction in services," he said. "The assumption is somehow, someway that 10 percent of the workforce is mere surplus. They are sleeping on the job and getting rid of them will have no impact on services provided. I think that's wrong."

Even if the bill passes the full House, some say it's highly unlikely to become law with a Democratic Senate and President.

"I put no more weight on committee passage yesterday as I did previous proposals to cut the federal government," said Jessica Klement, Federal Managers Association government relations director. "This is just another talking piece."

She said her group is more concerned about whether the congressional "supercommittee" would include cuts to federal jobs, pay or benefits in a deficit-reduction plan.

Formally known as the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, the supercommittee has been holding most of its meetings behind closed doors.

"We have little inkling of what's coming out, so maybe they are taking it seriously, maybe they're not," Klement said.

If that committee cannot draft its plan by Thanksgiving, all federal programs would be cut automatically.

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