Even if Congress addresses the Feb. 8, 2018, deadline for funding the government and averting shutdown, federal employees may still see negative impacts to their pay and benefits, as lawmakers look to them to balance deficit spending.
Sens. Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., recently announced that they are closing on a two-year budget deal, which lifts budget caps and would require appropriations committees to develop detailed plans within six weeks.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus, however, have expressed their displeasure at the deal’s spending increases, sparking the possibility that lawmakers will seek to offset that spending in other areas. Historically, federal employee pay and benefits have been targeted for such offsets.
According to the National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon, President Trump’s 2019 budget request is likely to include a pay freeze for federal employees, and additional presidential and congressional actions have called for reductions in retirement benefits and due process rights of federal employees.
“The administration’s budget proposal for 2019 is rumored to include a pay freeze for federal employees,” Reardon told NTEU members at the Union’s Feb. 7, 2018, legislative conference.
“It’s expected to include agency reorganization plans that are required by presidential executive order. It may also recycle proposals included in last year’s budget that would drastically change your retirement benefits.”
Those changes include increased employee contributions to their retirements, basing retirement benefits on the highest-paid five years of an employee’s service rather than the highest three, eliminating cost of living adjustment (COLA) benefits for new retirees and reducing COLAs for retirees under the Civil Service Retirement System.
According to Reardon, the House-passed budget resolution echoed many of the president’s employee benefit proposals and included language to completely eliminate the Federal Employee Retirement System annuity.
“Proponents of this, they claim that this would move federal employees closer to the retirement benefits that are found in the private sector. Well, candidly, I find that argument disingenuous,” said Reardon.
Federal employees have, in fact, seen their compensation fail to keep pace with the private sector in recent years.
“In the private sector, wages have increased 10.4 percent on average over the last five years. And, you know, when the government shuts down, when you have a natural disaster, the private sector can stay on. But let’s look at the comparative increase of 6.9 percent for federal workers during that same time period,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.
“We know, government employees, that we’re not going to get rich. We know that when we sign up, we know that when we serve, but doggone it can we at least have a decent wage?”
According to Demings, federal employees have already contributed approximately $200 billion in deficit reduction through pay freezes, below market adjustments and retirement increases.
Federal employee pay was frozen from 2011 to 2013 and has received only “minimal increases” in the years since, according to Reardon.
Beyond benefits, the Trump administration has indicated a desire to make it easier for managers to both fire and reward federal employees.
“At the State of the Union Address, the president called for limiting the due process rights of federal employees under the incorrect premise that managers now cannot reward high-performing employees and that they can’t dismiss those who are not,” said Reardon.
Attendees of the conference booed a clip of the State of the Union, in which Donald Trump called for giving agency secretaries the authority “to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
As part of the conference, over 350 members of NTEU plan to meet with members of Congress to encourage them to protect federal employee pay and benefits.
Jessie Bur covers the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees.