Election 2012: What's at stake for feds?

With the major party conventions now in the record books, candidates are trying to persuade any voters who have not already made up their minds. Although most of the issues at stake apply to all Americans, a few are of particular interest to feds — some because they have implications for specific jobs, such as cybersecurity, and others because they potentially affect federal employment in general.

Here is a quick rundown on how Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, or their respective party platforms, differ on key issues for federal employees.

Cybersecurity. The Republicans call for a hands-off approach that echoes the Secure IT Act championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earlier this year. The emphasis is on the public and private sectors working together, allowing for the free flow of information between network managers and within industry. It also puts the responsibility on the government to better protect its own systems. The Democrats’ platform notes some of the cybersecurity steps taken during Obama’s term and vows to continue investing in research and development, promoting awareness and strengthening public/private partnerships.

“The president and the administration have taken unprecedented steps to defend America from cyberattacks, including creating the first military command dedicated to cybersecurity and conducting a full review of the federal government's efforts to protect our information and our infrastructure,” the Democratic platform states.

Both parties’ positions drew criticism from cybersecurity experts. “Cyber deterrence doesn’t work. This is a creaky retread from the Cold War,” said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaking of the Republican position. As for voluntary information sharing, central to the GOP approach, “it’s legislation, not regulation, that blocks sharing, and Congress failed to fix it.”

“The Democratic platform calls for greater government engagement and involvement, but the imposition of mandates would be less effective because the government is not nimble enough to regulate in this area,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “How much would the Democratic platform cost? Nobody knows. The Democrats couldn’t tell you before when [the bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012] was being considered, and the same questions are being asked now.”

Workforce. The federal workforce is in for some trouble no matter which candidate wins. Tight budgets will force measures such as pay freezes, staff cuts — through attrition or otherwise — and limits on bonuses and other compensation. Obama has enacted a pay freeze for feds, extended it and then made a minuscule raise conditional on Congress passing a budget, which won't happen before April 2013 at the earliest.

But federal employees have no better alternative in the Republican plan. The party platform advocates reducing the federal workforce by at least 10 percent through attrition and cutting federal salaries by a similar amount.

FCW readers appeared to be split on which party's plan would be better for federal employees or the nation. One reader, using the handle “10 Yr Fed,” said: “The federal government is bloated according to who? Why should federal pay and benefits be linked to private-sector pay and benefits? Romney wants to pay us less and have us pay more toward our benefits. What a great way to push more families into poverty.”

But another reader, commenting anonymously, appeared to endorse the plan. “I can think of 100 people I would cut from the department [where] I work. The federal government has enough energetic staff to do the work. We need not hire any more, we need to get rid of those losers who come in at 9 and leave at 3, warming their seats in between.”

Reader comments

Tue, Sep 18, 2012

If your honest, most feds are over paid. Think of someone other than yourself and do an honest evaluation. The whole pay system is faulted. Yes there are some who are underpaid and these people are usually the professionals: engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. The overpaid staff are the admin support staff, realty experts, contracting, purchasing, all support staff positions. The reason most of are managers are in positions they are not qualified for is moving up the ladder only requires one year of experience at the next lower grade level - how is that qualify someone for a promotion? Someone at a GS4 can move up to a GS12 in about 4-5 years. That is why the feds are stuck with managers who are as clueless as my 4th grader.

Tue, Sep 18, 2012

I'm hesitant to believe my agency has many seat warmers since we habeen on a meritpay system for more than 15 years. The staff that only performs the minimum required tasks in their performance plan get no merit pay raises and may not even get COLAs. Of course now that everything is frozen with no pay raises there are suddenly reduced incentives for anyone to perform. So far no one I know seems to be reacting that way, but the minimal performer no longer would see an incentive to do better. Compared to other agencies I worked at early in my career under GS wage schedules, I can truely say that merit pay done right, eliminates many of the minimal performers and reward the staff that strive to do a good job.

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 Latin

@ cliff hanger: De Plagis Usque Meliores Animos Colligerent The problem is the government will invariably RIF the productive caring employees in favor of the lazy people who are connected politically or via nepotism.

Tue, Sep 18, 2012

And what happens when they make all these pay cuts, and mid- and low-level Feds can't pay their bills .... they get into financial trouble and lose their security clearances. Don't they realize that the stability and flexbility of the Federal workforce helped the nation get through the aftermath of 9-11? Contractors don't have the knowledge, experience, OR flexibility, and they only work to contracts. Over and over we have lost people who become contractors at greatly increase salaries.

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 30-Year Federal Employee

As a long-time, hard-working, federal employee that works 10 to 15 hour days on average with no additional renumeration, I take exception to the general view of the federal employee as not hard working. At least not in this office. I also know there are individuals who truely 'game' the system as well. And then there is the old boys network that operates throughout all agencies. Thus, taken in context, there are no broad-based simplistic solutions as many political types try to espouse in getting themselves elected. The solutions are more complex. Each individual entitity or unit within a division, organization or agency sees its own mission as justifiably vital. And why not? Why should one not have a bias that ones' work is important? Hard decisions must begin at both the marco and micro-levels. The nature of of political structure with new elections every four years; career-politicians; etc.. also adds fodder to the complexity of a solution. That said, one must tsart somewhere. And that somewhere is with a vision and a goal that can be promulgated within a four-year time span - to allow for the real possibility of being re-elected for another four year term - so that some 'real' change can occur. A good basis to begin is found within the framework of our own consitutution and the various amendments to that consitutition. We need to learn from our history and build upon what we have learned. Change, logically and carefully elucidated, should not be feared and will not be feared if a vision embraced by the masses is promulgated. That is where our current leadership fails. Both Repulicians and Democrats alike falter here. To each different audience addressed, they say what they think that particular audience wishes to hear. The end result is great fragmentation in the message delivered and a confused populace not to mention the media bias that also exists. When someone steps to the plate with a real vision of what needs to happen to get us to where we want to be as a 'proud' nation, then and only then will the voter be approaching the election ballot with a clear choice and not trying to decide which of the candidates will do the least dmage to us.

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