House rule change puts feds at risk of job and pay cuts

man planning layoffs 

A provision in the House of Representatives rules package passed by the Republican majority on Jan. 3 revives a rule dating back to 1876 that gives members the authority to fire or cut the pay of federal employees legislatively.

The Holman Rule, named for 19th century Indiana congressman William Holman, permits House members to offer amendments to appropriations bills to the full House that cut spending. The goal was designed to block appropriations riders to increase spending from being offered on the House floor. But it also has the specific effect of allowing amendments that cover "the reduction of the number and salary of the officers of the United States," or "the reduction of the compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States."

Such terminations or pay cuts would have the force of law, and supersede any civil service or other employment protections. The rule as passed is in effect for 2017, the first year of the 115th Congress.

House members in the D.C. area opposed the measure, because of the potential impact on federal employees.

"We know the majority would like to gut the functionality of the federal government," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "The dangerous and indiscriminate cuts of sequestration are evidence enough of that. However, this rules package provides them with the surgical tools necessary to reach into the inner workings of the federal government and cut away each part and employee that runs afoul of their ideological agenda."

"I cannot see how anyone who calls themselves a friend to federal employees could support this proposal," Connolly added.

In a group statement, Connolly and other Capitol-region Democratic lawmakers -- including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John Delaney and Don Beyer -- said the revival of the Holman Rule would "treat these civil servants like political pawns and scapegoats."

The American Federation of Government Employees also objected to the measure. "The jobs and paychecks of career federal workers should not be subject to the whims of elected politicians," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "The Holman Rule will not only harm our hardworking federal workforce, but jeopardize the critical governmental services upon which the American people rely."

Opposition to the rule was not limited to Democrats. Some appropriators are concerned that opening up deliberations to include a new category of amendments would lead to legislative logjams.

"I shudder to think how long it would take to consider an appropriations bill with a whole new category of made in order amendments, not necessarily related to discretionary funding," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) in an April 2016 Rules Committee hearing on the topic of future rules changes.

At that same hearing, one of the Holman Rule's staunchest supporters, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), said the rule was a check against the tilt of "power to the administrative branch of government."

"It tilts the power to them, because now all we can do is limit the money going to a particular area…and then the cuts are then decided by…the administrative branch of government," Griffith said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 17, 2017

A major concern is the unhealthy climate of extreme partisanship and imbalance of perceived power, with implications that can cause the hair on one's neck to raise and toes to curl... Could this be the start of our government going back to the days pre-Roosevelt presidencies?

Fri, Jan 6, 2017

I worked for the government years ago and the pay was less than the private sector. However, the benefits were great and the hours were good. Today those good things still exist, yet in many cases the pay is in excess of private sector comparable positions. This isn't right and another indication the government is out of control and not acting in a fiscally responsible manner with the tax dollars they receive. The tax payers welcomes any action which would better control government spending.

Fri, Jan 6, 2017

Yes, "out of control spending" is our ruination, not a broken tax system, hobbled by millionaires and billionaires (some of them elected).. And it's the first time I'm learning that career Federal employees are appropriating and deciding how to spend the public tax/deficit dollars, not the legislators who write the laws and spending bills.
The specter of the Holman Rule is nothing more than another step in the politicization of the career Federal workforce, and an opportunity for legislative corruption.

Wed, Jan 4, 2017

This seems more of an effort to curb the out of control spending. We are at a point in history where we are unable to sustain our fiscal obligations. This is more along the lines to the private sector when a company has more debt than income....they have to have an ability to cut costs (or hold back increases) in an effort to stay solvent. We all are worried that the Congress will stab at those who disagree, but we proved this election that the people still can push even the most powerful people out. We need to run the Govt, not look to have it run our lives for us!!!

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