As Congress wrestles with major legislation over the summer and into the fall, members of Congress and federal employee groups are warning that federal pension contribution increases and retirement cuts are a real danger.
Congress has already successfully passed legislation increasing federal retirement contributions. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which requires federal employees hired after January 2014 to pay 4.4 percent of their salaries into the Federal Employees Retirement System. Those hired in 2013 pay 3.1 percent. Employees hired before 2013 contribute 0.8 percent.
Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., also introduced legislation in March that would change the calculation for federal employee benefits from the average of their highest three years of pay to the average of their highest five years of pay.
The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2017 and would save $3.1 billion over a 10 year period, according to calculations by the Congressional Budget Office.
An early version of the House Budget resolution crafted in April also included a proposal to increase current federal employee retirement contributions to 6 percent of their salaries. That provision was later dropped and replaced with nonspecific dollar cuts to the overall budget.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., the ranking member of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the federal workforce, said it is likely that certain members of congress will continue to advocate for retirement benefit cuts.
"Regrettably, since 2010, the continual threat of Republican leadership seeking even greater increases in federal employee retirement contributions appears to be the new normal for a Congress that finds itself lurching from crisis to crisis," Connolly said.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said Congress cannot continue to treat federal employees as a piggy bank to balance the budget – and that includes unneeded increases in retirement contributions.
"I will continue to work with my colleagues to reward our federal employees for the jobs they do to keep America running," Beyer said.
Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she was very concerned about renewed efforts by some in Congress to increase retirement contributions for federal retirees.
That effort includes legislation that would set retirement benefits and annuities based upon the highest five years of pay, instead of the current three years, Kelley said.
"We have fought off such proposals in the past and will oppose them again," Kelley said. "The federal workforce has contributed $159 billion toward deficit reduction in the past five years. Singling out these middle-class, hardworking employees for more cuts is unfair."
But while the threat of increased retirement contributions is real, there is still time for federal employees and Congress to put a stop to it, said National Federation of Federal Employees president William Dougan.
He said NFFE will fight any legislation that strips members of benefits earned over a career as a public servant.
"Congress is always looking for new ways to balance the budget on the backs of federal employees, and measures introduced to attack retirement security must be taken seriously," he said. "Attacks on federal employees' retirement are nothing more than thinly-veiled pay cuts."