Hunting season on feds extended, expanded

Wednesday - 5/14/2014, 2:00am EDT

(An earlier version of this column contained errors about Sen. Marco Rubio's proposal. The senator's proposal would allow all Americans to join the Thrift Savings Plan — not the entire Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.)

One of the complaints people who don't like (big) government have is that in addition to being paid too much, federal workers can't be fired. Or aren't fired very often compared to their private-sector counterparts.

The overpaid-fireproof designation, whether you believe it or not, has been around forever. Democrats and Republicans have both made the charge over the years. And they have produced the data (carefully selected and interpreted, as is often the case) to "prove" their point.

Recent scandals and "scandals" at agencies — from the GSA (for excessive partying), the IRS (for possible political selectivity), the Secret Service, State Department (Benghazi) and now the VA — have put feds, both political appointees and career workers, in the spotlight.

Many of the attackers and defenders have a political point to make. The accuracy of the charges against the agencies appears to be immaterial (at times), so long as it proves the point. Or makes political points that will last until after the 2016 elections.

The pay and perks of federal workers, the subject of much political action in the last few years, appears to be temporarily off the table. Despite a proposal to give feds a 3.3 percent raise next year, odds are they will be lucky (as in fortunate) to get the same 1 percent amount they got last January. It's not much, but better than the three-year pay raise freeze.

Raising employee retirement contributions and using a new, less- generous formula to calculate future retiree cost-of-living adjustments has disappeared. For a while. Both the White House and House Republicans approved the changes. But the White House backed off (this year largely for political reasons) and most members of Congress are so busy trying to get reelected, or hang on to the House and Senate, they have little time to be in Washington.

The hunting season on bureaucrats has shifted targets. And it could last at least until November 2014 when the midterm elections are over.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has proposed that everybody in the country should be eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan. Rubio is considered one of the front-runners for the presidential nomination. And he's got a good populist idea: If federal workers can have the TSP, one of the best retirement-saving accounts in the nation with a 5 percent employer match, why can't ordinary taxpayers have it too? Many private-sector retirement plans have eliminated the defined benefit portion of their pension, leaving it up to workers to depend on their own 401(k) contributions and Social Security. Many of the remaining retirement plans don't require employees to contribute anything! But to many private-sector people, TSP would look pretty darn good.

Item two is the firing (or lack of firing) problem! When feds and executives mess up big time, many politicians think they should be fired immediately rather than protected by law. Senate Republicans are currently after the VA for allegedly providing shoddy, some claim life-threatening, service to patients. Then for covering up problems highlighted by some vets — many of whom are destitute and in bad shape because of age or wounds. VA officials deny any cover-up, but many people want heads to roll.

Some politicians want to give (force upon) the VA secretary the power to more easily fire career SES (Senior Executive Service) personnel. Opponents say it would be wrong to short-circuit safeguards built into the SES system and that when/if it happens, other agencies would be next.

So what's the situation? We hope to find out today on our Your Turn radio program. My guest is Jennifer Mattingley, director of government affairs for the law firm Shaw, Bransford and Roth. She tracks legislation and has an insider's take on what's going on. Federal Times writer Andy Medici will also join us to talk about what's moving, and what's stalled, on the government beat.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

The wheeled suitcase we know today wasn't patented until 1970. The wheeled trunk was patented in 1887 but never caught on.

(Source: Smithsonian magazine)


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