Unions, industry groups spar over impact of sequestration

Friday - 1/18/2013, 6:59pm EST

Guidance from the administration on what steps federal agencies should take to prepare for potential across-the-board budget cuts has set off a war of words between federal-employee unions and industry groups.

Earlier this week, the Office of Management and Budget directed agencies to step up their planning in case sequestration goes into effect, including through freezing hiring and terminating temporary employees.

But the American Federation of Government Employees said the administration's guidance imposes a "disproportionate sacrifice" on federal workers because it doesn't detail, to the same degree, comparable cuts to contracting.

AFGE calls for service-contract freeze

The OMB memo directs agency managers to "review grants and contracts to determine where cost savings may be achieved ... remaining mindful of the manner in which individual contracts or grants advance the core mission of the agency."

But to AFGE's ears that sounds like the kid-glove treatment.

"OMB needs to tell agencies to be mindful of how federal employees advance the core mission of agencies. The government's own workforce has already sacrificed $103 billion to deficit reduction while contractors have not been asked to give up a dime," AFGE National President J. David Cox said in Jan. 15 statement.

AFGE called on the administration to revise its guidance to include a freeze on new service contracts and to bar the exercising and approval of options years and modifications.

"Where penalties associated with contract cancellations are lower than the costs of continuing to pay the balance, contracts should be reviewed for termination," according to the AFGE statement.

Indusry group: AFGE 'wrong on multiple levels'

But the Professional Services Council, which represents service contractors, blasted the union's proposal.

"AFGE's perspective is wrong on multiple levels," said Stan Soloway, the group's president and CEO. "To start with, they ignore the thousands of contractor jobs that have already been cut, as well as the thousands more that will have to be cut in the execution of the OMB and DoD implementation guidance. Even worse, their perspective ignores entirely the best interests of the agencies and the taxpayer."

Still, AFGE is not alone. The National Treasury Employees Union, for its part, said it would push the administration to first consider cuts to contracting before taking adverse personnel actions against federal employees.

"We will urge agencies to look for other cost-cutting measures that can be taken before considering such actions as furloughs and buyouts," NTEU Colleen Kelley said in a statement.

The union maintains that cuts or modifications to federal-employee compensation have already yielded the government $103 billion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years — mostly through the two-year pay freeze, which is still in effect.

A 'unified voice?'

Going forward, both contractors and federal employees, alike, will be affected by sequestration, Soloway predicted.

"None of us like it, but we all must face it. ... Rather than arbitrarily targeting one community or the other, agencies must be free to strategically determine how to meet their individual short- and long-term mission requirements in the most efficient and effective manner," he added.

TechAmerica, an IT industry group, echoed that sentiment.

"Ensuring that the best possible service is delivered to Americans is a combined effort of both the public and private sector," Trey Hodgkins, the group's senior vice president for the global public sector told Federal News Radio in an email. "Making massive, indiscriminate cuts to either group hurts our economy, our citizens and most particularly our men and women in uniform. As a community, we must have a unified voice in calling on Congress and the administration to come up with a common sense workable solution that doesn't harm our fragile economy."

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