Five Issues to Watch in the New Congress


With Republicans formally taking control of the House of Representatives this week, federal employees can expect a new attitude from Congress toward the civil service. Both before and during the 2010 midterm elections, many members of the new majority embraced proposals targeting the federal workforce for massive spending cuts. Now that the GOP has the numerical advantage in the House, the likelihood of these proposals actually becoming law has dramatically increased.

It is essential that federal employees know what these proposals are, and what we can do to stop them. In the coming weeks, we will feature the latest developments on these issues on the NFFE website. But first, here is a preview of the five key workforce issues to watch out for as the policies of the next Congress begin to unfold.

Retirement Security:

One of the most often cited suggestions for reducing federal workforce spending is to reduce employee retirement benefits. Just last month, members of the President’s Fiscal Commission called for a transition from a ‘high 3’ annuity calculation to a ‘high five’ model. This would have the effect of diminishing retirement annuities in the long-run, costing future federal retirees thousands of dollars over time. Lawmakers could go a step further and propose elimination of federal workers’ government pension altogether.

Health Benefits:

Another recommendation of the fiscal commission was a reduction in federal worker health care benefits. More alarmingly, the commission recommended the best way to do this was to change the FEHBP to a voucher system. This means that federal workers would no longer have a guaranteed percentage of their health services covered. Instead, workers would receive a small voucher for a fixed amount to care for all of their health care needs in a given year. The net effect of this is to shift most of the burden of federal health benefits from the employer to the federal employees.

Workforce Reduction:

Reduction in force proposals have been a popular choice for anti-government legislators for decades. Recently, however, the support for such misguided attempts to slash the size of government has never had more currency than they do today. Cutting the federal workforce by 10%, as the new chairman of the House federal workforce subcommittee recommends, would eliminate 200,000 federal jobs by attrition and diminish critical services to the American people.

Mandatory Leave or Furloughs:

Another popular policy among anti-government lawmakers is the imposition of mandatory leave for federal employees, also known as furloughs. This means that workers would be forced to stay home for a certain number of days or weeks without pay each year, unless they are able to use annual leave to supplement the lost income. Lawmakers hope to save money by cutting civil servants’ hours on the job. Though the idea of a furlough sounds more palatable than other proposals, keep in mind that it is nothing more than a pay cut by a different name.

Federal Pay:

If there is any reason why the four issues mentioned above should be taken seriously, it is that we have already seen that Washington is serious about targeting federal employees. The two-year federal pay freeze is already impacting the bottom lines of millions of federal workers’ families, but some lawmakers want the cuts to go further. Proposals to freeze federal pay for three years have been recommended, in addition to calls for an across the board pay cut of 10%. Despite the fact that federal workers are irrefutably paid less than workers doing comparable jobs in the private sector, lawmakers continue to rely on misleading data suggesting otherwise. It is important that we correct the record at every opportunity; if not, it is likely that there will be more attacks around the corner.