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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