Connolly warns on workforce changes

The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

Rep. Gerald Connolly

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) expects the Republican Congress to target federal workforce protections.

With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and President Donald Trump newly installed in the White House, big changes could be in store for federal workers, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) warns.

Connolly, who represents a large number of federal workers and contractors, told FCW that he expects Trump to carry through with his campaign pledge to institute a federal hiring freeze. In addition, Connolly expects some of the workforce bills that House Republicans have introduced in the past few sessions of Congress -- covering retirement benefits, union activity and civil service protections -- to begin to move.

Even in the absence of new legislation, Connolly said, "we've already seen some very ominous developments in the new Congress." The revival of the Holman Rule covering appropriations, which makes it easier to cut programs and offices in the funding process, "is potentially very injurious to federal employees, their compensation and their status and could lead to a very serious disruption in the federal workforce," the congressman said.

The chairman of the House Oversight committee, Connolly noted, has been talking about moving the federal retirement system from defined benefits to defined contribution for newly hired feds, a move that Connolly says would "gut" the current system.

Connolly is also worried about the "chilling effect," of reports that Trump transition officials were seeking the names of civil servants working on projects like climate change research. This activity, Connolly said, "sends all the wrong signals to hard-working civil servants."

And a hiring freeze, he said, "is a rather mindless approach to management in my opinion. It discounts the criticality of particular missions. ... It makes everything and everyone the same -- a very dangerous management principle, it seems to me."

Overall, he said that eliminating federal benefits "will make recruitment and retention even harder" at a time when 40 percent of the federal workforce is retirement eligible.

Still, Connolly said that "some of the more radical proposals will have tough sledding," including plans to recast federal civil servants as "at will" employees, making them easier to fire. Senate Democrats will fight some of these proposals, he said.

Connolly's chairman on the Government Operations subcommittee, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has been touted in the press as a candidate to lead the Office of Personnel Management. Connolly said he didn't know whether the reports were true but noted he would be "saddened if Meadows were to leave. He has been a thoughtful partner in trying to protect the civil service and to be fair to federal employees."

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