Five-year pay freeze, more federal job cuts proposed

Friday - 1/21/2011, 7:06am EST

WFED's Jason Miller with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

House Republicans want to reduce federal spending for all non-security agencies back to 2008 levels for 2011 and to 2006 levels for the next nine years. Lawmakers want to make significant cuts to the federal civilian workforce and eliminate the Agency for International Development.

In a bill called the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 introduced Thursday, Republican lawmakers take aim at several federal employee benefits including, eliminating automatic pay increases for civilian federal workers for five years and cutting the civilian workforce by a total of 15 percent through attrition by letting agencies hire one new worker for every two that leave until the reduction target is met.

The Republican Study Committee introduced the bill on the heels of a resolution passed by the Rules Committee Wednesday night calling for the same decrease in spending.

Lawmakers estimate the reduction in spending would save $80 billion.

Federal employee unions came out strongly against the bill.

"Many agencies already are struggling with insufficient resources and staffing shortages in the face of expanding workloads and expectations on the part of the American people," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union in a press release. "These proposals will jeopardize the ability of agencies to protect the public and do the work they have been charged with. Even if drastic reductions such as these are ultimately not enacted into law, proposals like these get in the way of vital agency recruitment and retention efforts. This is an unnecessary and unwise step backward for our nation."

Kelley said that a funding cut would undermine the operations of the IRS, the Food and Drug Administration, the Social Security Administration (SSA), and the Patent and Trade Office.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement that freezing federal pay raises for another five years would demoralize the workforce and make it harder to attract and retain talented workers.

"We urge lawmakers to slow down and carefully consider the ramifications that these kinds of broadside attacks will have on the effective and efficient operation of government," he said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, said in an interview with Federal News Radio that many of his colleagues don't understand the impact of cutting the federal workforce.

"Federal employees are willing to do their part in addressing our national challenges, including the deficit, but they shouldn't be asked to shoulder this burden alone and people need to very quickly recognize that when you start taking draconian cuts in the federal government, you are directly impacting the lives of the American people in a significant and negative way," he said after a speech Thursday at a health IT event in Bethesda, Md., sponsored by the Montgomery County, Md. Chamber of Commerce.

He says it will require a major effort to present many of his colleagues with the facts so they can understand the situation.

Van Hollen said he is concerned about bills such as this one and other provisions that may get placed in a continuing resolution that will affect federal employees.

"We need to be very vigilant as this process moves forward and be willing to blow the whistle on efforts that would have very significant negative impacts not just on federal employees, but all the people who depend on the services they provide," he said. "It's easy to talk about the federal government in impersonal terms as if it's a giant bureaucracy that not productive. The reality is you of course can find efficiencies savings in the federal government just like you can in other places there comes a point very quickly where you will be hurting the American public in the services they are getting."

At the same time this bill flames the debate around federal spending, other House lawmakers introduced two bills to take on members of Congress' pay.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) wants to cut lawmakers' pay by 10 percent.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced legislation to end the automatic pay raise for members of Congress.

"I'm not saying Congress should never get a raise. I am saying that as we consider serious budget issues such as deficits and debt, funding for two wars and other priorities, an automatic pay raise is irresponsible," said Matheson in a release.

The Spending Reduction Act goes further than many other attempts to cut spending and federal workers benefits, and has more support.