Analysis: Even bleaker times ahead?

Friday - 1/21/2011, 5:30pm EST

Mike Causey, senior correspondent, Federal News Radio

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Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach, Partnership for Public Service

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Donald Kettl, Dean of the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

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Federal employees were already facing a two-year pay freeze through 2012. With a new spending reduction bill in the House, could feds' pay be frozen for five years instead?

The Spending Reduction Act of 2011 also calls for reducing the federal workforce by 15 percent through attrition by hiring one worker for every two that leave until the target is met.

(Scroll down to see breakdown of cuts by agencies.)

Mike Causey, senior correspondent at Federal News Radio, said the proposal of a five-year pay freeze is puzzling.

"To me, the audacity of it is, is that Congress does budgets on a yearly basis in most cases," he said. "To say five years, no pay raises for five years, this is a very strange way to do business."

This way of reducing spending is using an ax where a scalpel is needed, said Tim McManus, vice president of outreach and education at the Partnership for Public Service, which presents the Service to America Medals or SAMMIES.

"Would some cuts happen with some agencies, with some programs? Yes, but that's actually not the conversation we're having right now," McManus said.

The call for a five-year freeze and 15 percent reduction in force not only impacts current federal workers but also agencies' ability to recruit top talent, he said.

And the public will notice the cuts.

"If we're going to cut ... at the Veterans Administration, who's going to process those claims when we're already backlogged? If we're going to cut staff at Social Security, who's going to continue to process claims when claims are only increasing there?" McManus said.

Effective spending cuts will have to go beyond "blind whacking away," said Donald Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and the author of The Next Government of the United States: Why Our Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them."

Kettl said asking how to cut the budget is really asking how to do your job more effectively.

"The prospects of spending cuts is an opportunity to think about what we're doing and how to do it better," he said.

And people in government don't have to start from scratch. There are plenty of best practice examples available in agencies. The challenge now for federal managers is identifying those examples and building on them, Kettl said.

Spending Reduction Act of 2011