Election 2012: What's at stake for feds?

Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama offer competing visions for America. But how do they stand on federal priorities?

With the major party conventions now in the record books, candidates are trying to persuade any voters who have not already made up their minds. Although most of the issues at stake apply to all Americans, a few are of particular interest to feds — some because they have implications for specific jobs, such as cybersecurity, and others because they potentially affect federal employment in general.

Here is a quick rundown on how Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, or their respective party platforms, differ on key issues for federal employees.

Cybersecurity. The Republicans call for a hands-off approach that echoes the Secure IT Act championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earlier this year. The emphasis is on the public and private sectors working together, allowing for the free flow of information between network managers and within industry. It also puts the responsibility on the government to better protect its own systems. The Democrats’ platform notes some of the cybersecurity steps taken during Obama’s term and vows to continue investing in research and development, promoting awareness and strengthening public/private partnerships.

“The president and the administration have taken unprecedented steps to defend America from cyberattacks, including creating the first military command dedicated to cybersecurity and conducting a full review of the federal government's efforts to protect our information and our infrastructure,” the Democratic platform states.

Both parties’ positions drew criticism from cybersecurity experts. “Cyber deterrence doesn’t work. This is a creaky retread from the Cold War,” said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaking of the Republican position. As for voluntary information sharing, central to the GOP approach, “it’s legislation, not regulation, that blocks sharing, and Congress failed to fix it.”

“The Democratic platform calls for greater government engagement and involvement, but the imposition of mandates would be less effective because the government is not nimble enough to regulate in this area,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “How much would the Democratic platform cost? Nobody knows. The Democrats couldn’t tell you before when [the bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012] was being considered, and the same questions are being asked now.”

Workforce. The federal workforce is in for some trouble no matter which candidate wins. Tight budgets will force measures such as pay freezes, staff cuts — through attrition or otherwise — and limits on bonuses and other compensation. Obama has enacted a pay freeze for feds, extended it and then made a minuscule raise conditional on Congress passing a budget, which won't happen before April 2013 at the earliest.

But federal employees have no better alternative in the Republican plan. The party platform advocates reducing the federal workforce by at least 10 percent through attrition and cutting federal salaries by a similar amount.

FCW readers appeared to be split on which party's plan would be better for federal employees or the nation. One reader, using the handle “10 Yr Fed,” said: “The federal government is bloated according to who? Why should federal pay and benefits be linked to private-sector pay and benefits? Romney wants to pay us less and have us pay more toward our benefits. What a great way to push more families into poverty.”

But another reader, commenting anonymously, appeared to endorse the plan. “I can think of 100 people I would cut from the department [where] I work. The federal government has enough energetic staff to do the work. We need not hire any more, we need to get rid of those losers who come in at 9 and leave at 3, warming their seats in between.”

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