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Agencies continue to struggle with low morale

May. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Senators Discuss Reforms To Combat Military Sexual
Jon Tester: Federal employees are tired of being the scapegoat. (Allison Shelley / Getty Images)

Sequestration, furloughs and tight budgets have taken a toll on federal employee morale, and federal employee groups say that agencies’ efforts to make things better are not enough for a workforce hammered by benefit cuts.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said at a May 6 hearing of the Senate subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce that many politicians are using federal workers as a punching bag during budget negotiations.

“Federal workers didn’t cause our budget problems and they should not be a scapegoat to score political points,” Tester said.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said federal employees have been the target of attacks for more than four years that have required them to contribute more to their pensions and endure furloughs.

“They are sick and tired of simultaneously being Congress’ and the administration’s punching bag and ATM,” he said.

The morale of Defense Department employees was improving until the workforce was hit by furloughs last year, according to Paige Hinkle-Bowles, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy at DoD.

She said the past few years have been a challenging time and that employee satisfaction on pay and opportunities for advancement have declined but that the agency is working to improve morale through greater engagement and by reshaping its workforce to meet future needs.

Katherine Archuleta, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, said at the hearing that the decline in morale has a negative impact on agency recruiting efforts. Despite that, she said, there is still a strong interest in public service among federal job seekers.

She said OPM is looking at how to maintain the current number of about 2 million federal workers while adding more in critical areas.

OPM is working with agencies on a number of ways to boost morale and improve employee hiring and retention, including enhanced training for management and greater engagement between agency leaders and employees.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the ranking member of the subcommittee, repeated the now-familiar refrain: budget pressure means employees must do more with less.

He said agencies need to figure out how to incentivize work and productivity while reducing expenditures for salaries and benefits by about 26 percent.

“We do need to figure out how to be smarter and more innovative and attract the best and brightest and be as efficient as possible,” Portman said.

Colleen Kelley, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said sequestration will cut already-tight budgets even further in coming years.

“Unless the sequester is ended, it will have a crushing impact on jobs and economic growth, and will cripple the ability of the government to deliver services to the American public,” she said.

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