'Super committee' starts work on deficit reduction

The “super committee” charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending savings by Thanksgiving will hold its first public hearing Sept. 13 in Washington, and experts said the panel has its work cut out in the struggling economy. Federal employees in particular are watching the committee carefully, given that many recent proposals to reduce federal spending have involved salary freezes, staff reductions and other measures that affect feds.

The 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was formed by legislation in early August and must find ways to cut $1.5 trillion in federal spending during the next decade. 

John Palguta, vice president at the Partnership for Public Service, said he anticipates the committee to get heavily lobbied by interest groups who are looking to preserve their piece of the shrinking pie. But in identifying those savings, Palguta said the panel should consider the public and its needs.

“In the end of the day, the public wants government to do certain things, very important things for the country: national defense, homeland security,” he said. “The super committee needs to understand that even while cutting like a surgeon, they’re going to be cutting away hopefully not vital parts of government and preserving those things that government needs in order to operate effectively and efficiently.”

The committee will consider the federal workforce in terms of size, number of employees, pay and benefits and also will examine whether there are possible savings by extending the existing freeze on pay raises, Palguta said.

“All of those are fair game and should be on the table,” he said. “But when you’re making decisions as to exactly where and how much to cut with regard to the workforce, in the back of their minds they should have, 'Okay, what do we have left if these cuts are enacted? And is that sufficient for government to operate going forward?’”

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, said he believes most of the focus will be on entitlement spending and reducing benefits for the federal workforce.

“The federal workforce is a modest-size item in the federal budget, compared to the cost of say, Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “If the committee does agree to some reform, then the federal workforce might see some modest savings there. But I think the main impact will be on trimming the benefits.”

However, the issue is the need to control the size of the workforce and its pay, he said.

“There’s going to be pressure on for years to come on keeping wages and benefits and the size of the federal workforce down just because we have a trillion-dollar deficit as far as the eye can see,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a whole process here in the coming years of looking at aspects of federal compensation, more closely than in the past.”

Federal Computer Week will cover the hearing Sept. 13 and report here and on Twitter. Follow us at @fedcomputerweek.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 fed-up

How about this as a corollary ...any year that there is deficit spending, all of the house and senate, president, VP, all cabinet and other presidential appointees, "czars", et al (anyone needing "confirmation") forfeit half their pay for NOT doing their job. By making *their* pay contingent upon a balanced budget, I can promise you the budget will get balanced very quickly.

Tue, Sep 13, 2011

Hi Kyle. How about actually learning about the subject you are talking about. Fed pay is frozen now. Feds can't be fired is a myth, propagated by the ignorant. Kyle, according to the US Federal Labor Laws, unless you are an exempt employee - straight salary, NO employer can require you to work 60 hours and only pay you for 40. If you are personally doing so and are not an exempt employee, I suggest you seek legal counsel. If you are exmept and are working such hours, than you should have taken this into consideration when you negotiated your current position. What article in US Today states that Feds make twice as much as their commercial counterparts? Kyle, mis-quoting or misrepresenting a published article and/or a publisher in general is considered slander and is held to be indirect defamation of character. You can be held liable for such incidents.

Tue, Sep 13, 2011

As noted by another responder to this article, the total salary cost for Federal Employees is roughly $260 billion and yet the total expenditure of the Fed is $3.8 Trillion. That means that current Fed salary equals 6% of the spending. Face it, in relation to $1.5 trillion, this number isn’t significant enough to make a real impact. The numbers that need to be dealt with are the following; Federal Deficit $1.645 trillion (What we spend over what we collect) Interest on loans $207 billion Over Payments 2010 $121 billion (Needs to stop and funds recovered. This is problem 1. ) IRS Revenues Personal Income $1.175 trillion (Smaller number than what Congress is trying to cut. There are 311 million people in the US but only 144 million filed returns. 46% of the populations supports the other 54%. Biggest issue needing to be fixed. Problem 2.) Corporate Income $225 billion Employment Tax $858 billion (Payroll tax or tax collected from both the individual and the corporation entitlement programs - health & welfare. Total expenditures over $1.378 trillion. Problem 3. The actual cost of the programs is $520 billion more PER YEAR than the revenue collected for said programs. This is a reoccurring deficit that builds exponentially. Here is where the overspending is taking place, here is where the cuts need to happen or the revenue stream needs to be increased.) Excise Taxes $47 billion (In 1950, excise tax made up more than 5% of the total revenue. Currently, they account for less than .5%. Problem 4 - excise tax needs to be increased. Gift Tax $3 Billion Estate Tax $21.6 billion TOTAL IRS Revenue $2.3296 trillion Issues with this - $2.258 trillion of that money is based on personal, corporate and employment taxes all revolving around an individuals employment - 97% of your revenue stream!! How does Congress fix the deficit? Cutting spending alone won’t do it. They have to do it wisely but equally important, they need to fix the following issues; 1 144 million people should not be supporting a population of 311 million. More people need to be working and add to the collective revenue of the nation. 2 Cost overrun on welfare and health is a reoccurring cost of $520 billion a year or 38% more than the revenue collected for these programs. This definitely has to stop. 3 Over payments not only have to stop but the money has to be recovered to return to the revenue. 4 The revenue stream needs to be more balanced and not so dependant on employment. Excise taxes need to be increased on NONESSENTIAL items and most of all, billion of dollars in pay backs need to stop as well.

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 Mike

If there's a National burden, the entire "Nation" needs to contribute to taking care of it (not just Feds). I'd rather see multi-million dollar employees contribute a little more (e.g. athletes getting paid $10 million per year; CEOs getting bonuses and huge retirement payouts; etc.). Many of these folks receive tax write-offs for donations or purchasing 'green' items, etc. This burden needs to be shared across the Nation.

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 Rick Washington State

Kyle, you need to get your facts straight. While some Fed jobs may pay more than their private counter parts, 85% do not. I am sitting about $30K behind several former friends of mine (former Fed employees) who jumped ship for better pay. Most of us stay here because we care about what we are doing and we work hard to make sure our jobs are done well. I can handle some pay freeze. How about this idea? Everyone pay $5000 for every man, woman and child in the US. That is what the deficit is now. Pay it at tax season. Then we'd be done.

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