Federal workers remain 'political football'

How many federal employees should the government employ?

It's a familiar question, and it's one that won't go away. Lawmakers continued to argue the question at a hearing held May 26 by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce. But, amidst all the political rhetoric, there was no clear answer.

Republican members of the subcommittee argued that the current size of the federal workforce is “fiscally unsustainable.”

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said in his opening statement, “Taxpayers can no longer be asked to foot the bill for a bloated federal workforce.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Democrats pressed their colleagues to stop using federal jobs and benefits as a “political football.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) urged committee members to “stop beating up on public employees.”

Depending on their viewpoint, lawmakers used statistics to illustrate how the federal workforce has grown exponentially or shrank considerably. Confusing, isn’t it?

All of this information led to nothing close to a resolution on how to actually make the government more efficient and, in turn, bring down the national deficit.

What was interesting about the hearing, though, was the point that the size of the contractor workforce has been missing from the debate. Another interesting point – made by William Dougan, the national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees – is that there has been no discussion about what government services will be cut if the workforce is made smaller.

Both of these issues seem valid enough to be considered by Congress. Yet, the hearing ended without any talk about future action.

Maybe this is all part of Ross’ plan to “right-size” the federal workforce, or maybe there is no plan. It’s hard to say at this point.

But, one thing to note is that a similar hearing held by Ross’ subcommittee March 9 on federal pay, also posed a bunch of big questions and didn’t provide many answers.

Since federal workers are already facing a two-year pay freeze, many have expressed frustration by the recent legislation and hearings that suggest they are overcompensated, expendable and underperforming.

Figuring out the appropriate pay and size of the workforce – both of which seem to lack a definitive conclusion – is a challenging task. And, it appears that Congress is still too busy playing politics to move the workforce debate beyond rhetoric and into the strategic arena. 

How difficult do you think it will be to include contractors in the debate over the size of the federal workforce? What approach do you think Congress should take when it comes to weighing the number of feds?

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