House Dems urge supercommittee to avoid more cuts to feds

Thursday - 10/13/2011, 5:51pm EDT

By Jolie Lee and Jason Miller
Federal News Radio

House Democratic committee leaders are urging the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to avoid further cuts to federal pay and benefits.

Sixteen ranking members of the House committees sent letters today to the 12-member bipartisan debt supercommittee with their recommendations to reduce the debt. The supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to submit a list of their own recommendations to cut at least $1.5 trillion in the national deficit.

Federal employees' pay and benefits have become a target for some lawmakers to cut spending.

But feds have sacrificed enough, said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Federal workers are currently under a two-year pay freeze that is estimated to save about $60 billion over the next 10 years, he said.

Cummings added that agencies are also preparing for reduced discretionary spending in the coming years. In August, the Office of Management and Budget instructed agencies to submit two versions of fiscal 2013 budget requests — one that cuts at least 5 percent and one that cuts at least 10 percent in discretionary spending compared with this year.

The American Federation of Government Employees said agencies already have cut back "significantly" in hiring. Many also are planning furloughs and reductions in force, AFGE said in a release.

"Further cuts to federal employee compensation, benefits, or workforce size will negatively impact recruitment and retention and substantially degrade agency performance, " Cummings wrote in his letter to the super committee. "The hardworking men and women in the federal workforce provide vital services to the nation, and it is critical to ensure their continued ability to provide these services in an effective and efficient manner."

Cummings also urged the super committee to follow the Obama administration's proposal to lower prescription drug prices under the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) Program by combining purchasing power.

Under the FEHB Program, which provides $40 billion in health care benefits annually for about eight million employees, retirees and their families, drugs represent about 30 percent of the costs of the program with more than 200 health plans participating in the FEHB Program contract individually with pharmacy benefits managers who negotiate prices with drug manufacturers and pharmacies on behalf of their enrollees.

The administration proposed to let the Office of Personnel Management to contract directly with pharmacy benefit managers to lower prices, which it estimated would save $1.6 billion over 10 years.

Along with federal workforce recommendations, Cummings wanted the super committee to address contracting issues in the Defense Department.

He asked the committee to create a special inspector general for overseas contingency operations to fix the problems found by the Wartime Contracting Commission.

Cummings also wrote the committee should cancel several large weapons programs including V-22 Osprey, Space Tracking and Surveillance System and the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-Low.

Finally, Cummings asked the super committee to adopt the administration's Postal Service reform recommendations to help alleviate the agency's financial problems.

Reform contractor pay

Instead of focusing on federal pay, the super committee should turn its attention to contractor pay, Cummings wrote.

In 2010, civilian agencies spent $320 billion in service contracts — 40 percent more than the total paid to in-house civilian employees, according to the letter.

A survey by the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area found the pay gap between feds and contractors is widening. Overall, contractor pay was 7.3 percent above that earned by federal employees, and contractor executive pay was about 69 percent higher than their federal counterparts.

As part of his report to the super committee submitted in September, President Obama encouraged a cap on contractor executive pay. The administration proposes setting the cap at $200,000. A statutory formula sets the cap, which was $250,000 in 1995 but rose to nearly $700,000 last year, the White House report said.

Automatic cuts if no super committee recs

If the super committee fails to come up with recommendations — or Congress does not pass them — sequestration will take effect.

The automatic across-the-board cuts would impact the country's economy, national security and health, said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee in a letter to the super committee.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated a sequestration would reduce the 2013 discretionary budget for nondefense programs by 7.8 percent and defense programs by 10 percent, Dicks said in the letter.

Dicks outlined some examples of how these cuts would impact individual departments and offices:

  • 200,000 less active duty employees in the Marine Corps.
  • 25 percent less Customs and Border Patrol agents.
  • 9,000 less screener positions at the Transportation Security Administration.
  • 1,200 less air traffic controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Read all committee ranking member letters here.

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