Workforce measures add up to shake-up

Pay freezes, recruiting changes and now a proposal in Congress to cut 10 percent of the federal workforce. What's next?

From the look of things, federal workers are in for a shake-up this year.

Feds have had their pay frozen and are facing new restrictions on recruiting and a push in Congress to reduce the size of the workforce. The new Republican majority in the House claims federal workers are overpaid — a notion that the Bureau of Labor Statistics and federal employee unions dismiss — and some deficit-reducing measures will target feds.

Although federal salaries are frozen for two years, employees might still see some increases through promotions to higher steps within their General Schedule ratings.

However, many observers say the pay freeze is largely symbolic. Elizabeth MacDonald, writing for Fox News, characterized it as not really a freeze.

In addition to leaving step raises and promotions unfrozen, “the president’s pay freeze does not affect the reason why federal compensation is higher than the private sector — very rich federal benefits, like government pensions federal workers can start drawing down on as early as age 56,” she writes. Those pensions are typically based on the highest three years of salary, versus five years at private companies, MacDonald notes.

Federal employee advocates and their unions in particular also agree that the pay freeze will be ineffective because it punishes employees without making a dent in the deficit.

“Clearly, these are tough economic times, and federal employees stand ready to do their part, but canceling a modest 1.4 percent pay raise this year and a projected 1.1 percent pay raise next year because of deficit concerns rings particularly hollow in light of the recent tax compromise between the administration and congressional Republicans that will give hundreds of billions of dollars to America’s wealthiest families,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

More recently, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced legislation that would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent in the next decade and freeze civilian employees' pay for three years, plus make other budget reductions. Brady said enacting all the measures in the bill, named Cut Unsustainable and Top-Heavy Spending, would save $153 billion.

Meanwhile, the process of bringing new employees into the federal workforce is changing, too. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in December 2010 that establishes two new programs — the Internship Program and the Recent Graduates Program — and modifies the long-standing Presidential Management Fellows Program. The three are now collectively known as the Pathways Programs.

“The principal purpose of the order is to establish a comprehensive structure to help the federal government be more competitive in recruiting and hiring talented individuals who are in school or who have recently received a degree,” wrote John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a memo Jan. 5 to agencies.

The order also killed the Federal Career Intern Program, which had been criticized for short-cutting the competitive hiring process and giving its participants an unfair advantage.

“This was an excellent decision,” writes a commenter named Spence on the Federal Soup message board. “The original intent of FCIP was never to have a parallel-track hiring process crowding out the normal, open, competitive hiring process for new hires. It was supposed to be limited, but it just kept expanding and expanding."

“The new Pathways is a far more limited, narrowly and appropriately focused program devoted to giving a pathway to new college grads," Spence adds. "It will not be allowed to replace all entry-level hires in a particular job series. It keeps the positive of FCIP — giving new college grads a chance at being hired by the feds, not subject to a scoring system that is often too focused on work experience and thus often does not score college grads highly enough — without the negatives of FCIP.”

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