GOP budget plan keeps federal workforce in the crosshairs

The second salvo in the fiscal 2013 budget battle has been launched. The GOP has released its budget proposal, a contrast to President Barack Obama's request released in February. The stage is now set for Congressional wrangling over which parts of the proposals to actually pass as part of the next fiscal year's budget.

The Republican proposal, which Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wisc), released on March 20, includes spending cuts aimed at reducing the deficit, including extending the current freeze on federal employees' salaries through 2015 and reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent. Obama's budget would end the pay freeze and give a small (0.5 percent) raise to civilian federal employees.

"The reforms called for in this budget aim to slow the federal government's unsustainable growth and reflect the growing frustration of workers across the country at the privileged rules enjoyed by government employees," reads a line in the budget document.

In the proposal, Ryan recommends boosting the private sector by slowing the growth of the public sector. The government has hired 147,000 new workers since Obama took office in 2009, according to the budget. 

To Ryan, “it’s no coincidence that private-sector employment continues to grow only sluggishly while the government expands," according to the proposal. He notes that the government needs a strong workforce and federal workers need equitable pay for the work they do. However, he said employees’ pay increases and fringe benefits need reforms to better align with the private-sector counterparts.

As is usual in partisan politics, the other political party opposes much of Ryan's proposal. “They provide a gilded path to prosperity for the already wealthy, while leaving working Americans and future generations behind,” Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said in a statement.

The debate over comparing compensation and salaries and benefits between the public and private sectors has been going on in the government for some time. Each side of the debate points to their chosen analyses to support their arguments. In this proposal, Ryan cites a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released in January that said federal employees are compensated on average 16 percent higher than comparable private-sector employees.

“Immune from the effects of the recession, federal workers have received regular salary bumps regardless of productivity or economic realities,” Ryan wrote.

The two-year pay freeze that federal employees are under hasn’t stopped all pay raises. The Office of Personnel Management reported in December 2010 that promotions, in-grade step increases and other individually based pay increases, such as bonuses, have not been affected. 

Extending the pay freeze and letting the workforce shrink through attrition will save an estimated $268 billion over 10 years, according to the GOP budget.

The budget’s proposed reforms also target the government’s improper payments to companies and individuals, an effort the Obama administration has tackled since 2009. In addition, it includes measures aimed at duplicative programs. Congressional authorizing committees, which oversee various departments and agencies, would provide the House Budget Committee with areas in which to reduce spending on wasteful and out-of-date programs. The House Budget Committee writes the federal budget. The recommendations would also go online for transparency’s sake.

The workforce measures had been anticipated earlier, but details were sketchy.

Read the full budget proposal here. If you see something in the budget plan that FCW's readers need to know, tell us in the comments.

About the Author

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

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