'Super committee' starts work on deficit reduction

The “super committee” charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending savings by Thanksgiving will hold its first public hearing Sept. 13 in Washington, and experts said the panel has its work cut out in the struggling economy. Federal employees in particular are watching the committee carefully, given that many recent proposals to reduce federal spending have involved salary freezes, staff reductions and other measures that affect feds.

The 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was formed by legislation in early August and must find ways to cut $1.5 trillion in federal spending during the next decade. 

John Palguta, vice president at the Partnership for Public Service, said he anticipates the committee to get heavily lobbied by interest groups who are looking to preserve their piece of the shrinking pie. But in identifying those savings, Palguta said the panel should consider the public and its needs.

“In the end of the day, the public wants government to do certain things, very important things for the country: national defense, homeland security,” he said. “The super committee needs to understand that even while cutting like a surgeon, they’re going to be cutting away hopefully not vital parts of government and preserving those things that government needs in order to operate effectively and efficiently.”

The committee will consider the federal workforce in terms of size, number of employees, pay and benefits and also will examine whether there are possible savings by extending the existing freeze on pay raises, Palguta said.

“All of those are fair game and should be on the table,” he said. “But when you’re making decisions as to exactly where and how much to cut with regard to the workforce, in the back of their minds they should have, 'Okay, what do we have left if these cuts are enacted? And is that sufficient for government to operate going forward?’”

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, said he believes most of the focus will be on entitlement spending and reducing benefits for the federal workforce.

“The federal workforce is a modest-size item in the federal budget, compared to the cost of say, Medicare and Social Security,” he said. “If the committee does agree to some reform, then the federal workforce might see some modest savings there. But I think the main impact will be on trimming the benefits.”

However, the issue is the need to control the size of the workforce and its pay, he said.

“There’s going to be pressure on for years to come on keeping wages and benefits and the size of the federal workforce down just because we have a trillion-dollar deficit as far as the eye can see,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a whole process here in the coming years of looking at aspects of federal compensation, more closely than in the past.”

Federal Computer Week will cover the hearing Sept. 13 and report here and on Twitter. Follow us at @fedcomputerweek.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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