Workforce Wonk

By Alyah Khan

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Obama explains the pay freeze

At the White House's first-ever Twitter Town Hall held July 6, President Barack Obama took just one question related to public employees. But the answer he gave answered another question that's been on many people's minds.

The question came from a participant named Patrick, who tweeted the following to Obama: “Mr. President, in several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this?”

Obama noted that collective bargaining rights are important, but the rest of his response was murky. Then he brought up the two-year pay freeze his administration imposed on the federal workforce.

“Now that wasn’t real popular, as you might imagine, among federal workers,” Obama said, according to the official White House transcript of the event. “We were able to do that precisely because we wanted to prevent layoffs, and we wanted to make sure that we sent a signal that everybody is going to have to make some sacrifices, including federal workers.”

The comment stood out because, in recent months, Republican lawmakers have been calling for cuts to the size of the federal workforce to lower the nation’s deficit. 

Several bills have been introduced to shrink the federal workforce through attrition, but none has gained significant momentum.

However, in a time of constrained budgets, is it worth considering targeted reductions in the federal workforce rather than across-the-board cuts?

Some who would answer yes to that question have said that before the government attempts to carry out any kind of downsizing effort, administration officials must first decide what services or programs the government would no longer provide as a result of having a smaller workforce.

Posted by Alyah Khan on Jul 07, 2011 at 12:20 PM


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