Obama rejects calls to extend federal salary freeze

Budget request defends federal employees

The Obama administration is not extending the two-year pay freeze for federal civilian employees in its fiscal 2012 budget request released today, thereby ignoring the recommendation of the bipartisan fiscal commission to implement a three-year pay freeze.

President Barack Obama restated in his budget proposal that freezing the salaries of federal workers is meant to be a shared sacrifice. “This is in no way a reflection on the dedicated service of federal workers but rather a necessary belt-tightening measure during these difficult times when so many private-sector workers are facing similar cuts,” the president said. 

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The administration has projected that the two-year freeze will save $2 billion over the remainder of 2011, $28 billion over the next five years and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years. Despite the civilian salary freeze, the budget does include funding for a 1.6 percent pay raise for military service members.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommended in its report last December that the administration freeze federal worker pay for a total of three years. The commission said this would save $20.4 billion by 2015.

But the administration seems to be largely ignoring the recommendations of the fiscal commission in its 2012 budget proposal. Along with a three-year pay freeze, the commission called for a reduction in the size of the federal workforce through attrition. Specifically, the commission wanted to see a 10 percent reduction, or 200,000 employees.

It might not be surprising though that these provisions are absent from the administration’s budget request, since the pay freeze and workforce cuts proposed in recent legislation have gotten considerable criticism from labor unions and groups that advocate on behalf of federal employees.

House Republicans introduced bills last month aimed at reducing government spending by shrinking the size of the federal workforce as the fiscal commission advised, among other steps, but those proposals have yet to gain much traction.

And in what appears to be an effort to combat GOP and public scrutiny about the growing size of government, the administration notes in the budget that the federal workforce has “declined dramatically” over the last several decades.

“In 1953, there was one federal worker for every 78 residents,” the administration's budget analysis states. “By 2009, the ratio had dropped to one federal employee for every 147 residents.”

The administration also defends federal workers’ compensation.

A breakdown of federal and private-sector workforce occupations included in the budget analysis indicates that 54.5 percent of federal workers work in the nine highest-paying occupation groups compared to only 32.4 percent of private-sector workers in those same groups, making the claims of cost-cutting advocates that workers are overpaid difficult to support, in the Obama administration's view. 

“Raw comparisons on average pay between federal and private-sector employees mask important differences in the skills levels, complexity of work, scope of responsibility, size of organization, location, experience level and special requirements, as well as exposure to personal danger,” the administration states in the analysis.


About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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Reader comments

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 Fed employee DC area

I don't think any of this has much to do with the budget. This is about posturing-from both sides. Seriously, 2 billion dollars in savings from a trillion dollar deficit? This is about the 2012 election. No politician anywhere is talking about serious cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or defense spending. But they have every yahoo in the country talking about how public employees are overpaid and need to 'share the pain' . Such nonsense! I'd gladly take a pay cut if politicians were actually ready to have an adult conversation about spending.

Thu, Feb 17, 2011 Bernard WDC

Scott: Ok now let me get this straight..... we need to create jobs, we all agree on that. If that truly is the case, how is CUTTING 200,000 federal jobs "CREATING" anything? Oh wait... thats the new math they teach in school isn't it! MY RESPONSE: No, that's the GOP math that goes back to 1980 when GHW Bush referred to it as "voodoo." You cut jobs to increase jobs. You cut taxes to balance the budget. You add new Medicare benefits without raising revenues and you don't bankrupt the Medicare system. Merry Christmas to all, and to all federal workers, Goodnight!

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 Scott

Ok now let me get this straight..... we need to create jobs, we all agree on that. If that truly is the case, how is CUTTING 200,000 federal jobs "CREATING" anything? Oh wait... thats the new math they teach in school isn't it! First we cut 200,000 jobs from over here, and they magically appear over there! Look we now have 200,000 vacancies. I have just helped to create 200,000 jobs! Maybe we should reduse the number of Congressman.... I am sure cutting 30 - 40 positions in congress and reducing the retirement for the rest could save alot of money. They can do more with less! After all that's what they are asking of "ALL" Federal Employees. Cutting any job will just add to the people standing in the Unemployment line, add to the number of Forclosures because more people can't pay, and WILL NOT really reduce the Deficit by enough to make it worth it. Wait a minute, I guess that's why we need to use the new math to rationalize how spending savings in the Billions translates into even touching a deficit that is counted in the TRILLIONS.

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 New FED

Let me see if I get this right. To get the economy going in the right direction we should spend more money. But wait we don't get paid more money. Food, gas, medical costs are going up but our salaries are not. Looks like I won't be spending as much money. Too bad for the economy.

Tue, Feb 15, 2011 Just some guy Michigan

With all the arguements about Feds being overpaid or underpaid, nobody seems to understand that there really is only one way to tell if you are compensating employees at a proper level. You can see if you are paying too much or too little by how difficult it is to recruit new talent, and how difficult it is to retain existing talent. I once had an HR person tell me that during good economic times it wasn't unusual to post a position nationwide and only get a couple of applicants, none of whom were really qualified. During bad economic times that same posting may get 900 or more applicants, of which maybe 2 or 3 are actually qualified. So federal compensation does not compare favorably with the private sector during good times. During bad times the compensation is more attractive, but not necessarily to the right candidates.

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