Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is one of many Republicans who say the federal workforce is growing too large. (File photo / Getty Images)
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday approved a bill along party lines that would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent by fiscal 2015.
HR 3029, passed 23-14 with one Democrat in favor, would allow agencies to hire only one new employee for every three who leave. Republicans such as Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Dennis Ross of Florida said the federal workforce is growing too large and the nation cannot afford 2.1 million employees while facing massive budget deficits.
"Taxpayers can no longer be asked to foot the bill for a bloated federal workforce," said Ross, one of the bill's co-sponsors.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., was the sole Democrat to vote in favor of the bill.
Democrats, such as Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, said that if the government is going to trim its ranks, the cuts should be made strategically and not by imposing "arbitrary" limits.
"If they're not done carefully, these cuts could have a widespread and detrimental impact on the agencies' ability to carry out their constitutional and statutory function to provide services to the American people," Lynch said.
The committee approved Lynch's amendment to also cut contract spending by the same amount that spending on federal employees is cut each year. Lynch said it would be disingenuous to cut federal employees while ignoring the government's roughly 10.5 million contract employees.
Federal employee unions and management groups strongly oppose the bill. The National Treasury Employees Union said that despite lawmakers' claims, the bill would not prevent the shifting of federal work to private contractors.
"In reality, it offers a giant loophole to move important federal work into the hands of more costly, less accountable and less effective contractors," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.
The committee also approved HR 3289, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which would strengthen whistle-blower protections. Issa, who sponsored the bipartisan bill with Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the bill would extend whistle-blower protections to about 40,000 Transportation Security Administration screeners and intelligence employees, close loopholes in existing protections, and create a pilot program to extend whistle-blower protections to non-defense contractors.
Issa said the bill would also permanently prevent agencies from using poorly defined security labels — such as classifiable, sensitive but unclassified and sensitive security information — to gag whistle-blowers.
But the committee voted down an amendment from Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, that would have given federal and contract whistle-blowers the right to jury trial if they are retaliated against for exposing waste, fraud and abuse. The Senate's version of the bill contains the right to a jury trial.
Federal unions and groups such as the Project on Government Oversight and Government Accountability Project applauded the House bill. But the National Whistleblowers Center objected to the bill's exclusion of the right to a jury trial.