Commission vote leaves 3-year pay freeze proposal in limbo

Debt Commission also proposes cutting 10 percent of federal workforce

A majority of the members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform voted to endorse a slate of recommendations including a three-year freeze on federal salaries and scaling back the federal workforce by 10 percent,  but the majority was not enough to guarantee a vote in Congress.

Eleven members supported the report, and seven did not. The report needed support from 14 members to require Congress to do anything with it. However, while the vote was not enough to compel action, the discussion sparked by the process -- and the support of many members of Congress -- means that some or all of the recommendations may turn up in bills anyway.

"Whether we get two votes or eighteen, this baby ain't going away," said former Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the Commission, in a story on American Public Media. "This cadaver will rise from the crypt."

Earlier, the commission proposed a three-year freeze on federal employees’ salaries to save a projected $20.4 billion. President Barack Obama proposed a two-year pay freeze with projected savings of $28 billion over five years.

Related stories:

Could pay freeze send feds to private sector? 

President Obama proposes federal employee pay freeze for two years

The commission also recommended scaling back the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent -- 200,000 employees -- while maintaining services. But John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said it’s foolhardy to believe that services won’t suffer as jobs go unfilled.

Robert Burton, former deputy administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now partner at the Venable law firm, said the government is tending toward a smaller workforce already.

The administration is looking at functions, not numbers of people, as it tries to rely less on contractors, he said. As agencies search out savings, Burton said officials will look to do the work agencies need to do with fewer employees, if it is feasible.

AFGE noted that the commission’s final proposal no longer includes a proposal to cut 250,000 non-defense service contractors by 2015 or cut defense service contracting positions by 4 percent.

The proposals have federal labor unions upset about cuts and already empty desks throughout agencies.

“Rather than rely on the experience and knowledge of federal employees to recommend ways to save money, the deficit commission decided to treat federal employees as the problem and one of the main causes of the massive deficit,” Gage said.

Similarly, the National Treasury Employee Union threatened to take the president’s pay freeze proposal to Congress in order to stop it from going through.

Burton, a former senior executive service level employee, said these proposals end up costing more than the proposed savings. It dampens morale for workers and a low morale yields a lower level of productivity and services, he said.

The commission and Obama, backing their respective proposals, said the American people have tightened their belt and federal employees should as well.

“In a time of budget shortfalls, all levels of government must trim back,” the commission report states regarding the pay freeze.

Both proposals are just that at the moment, and Congressional approval will be necessary to put either into effect.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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