The Hill Op-Ed: GOP Effort to Freeze Federal Pay for Five Years Unfair by William R. Dougan


Some Republicans in the Senate are pushing a proposal to extend the current pay freeze for federal employees another three years, for a total of five consecutive years, to offset the cost of extending the payroll tax credit. While we agree that continuing this middle class tax cut is an absolute necessity, it is unthinkable that federal workers would be singled out again to pay for it.

Federal workers have already made significant sacrifices to help ease the burden of our national debt. We swallowed hard and accepted the two-year pay freeze which has been a great burden to federal workers and their families that are struggling just like everyone else. This sacrifice alone has saved American taxpayers $60 billion.

Federal workers are also deeply impacted by major cuts being made to the federal budget. Between $900 billion in budget cuts across federal agencies that was agreed to as part of the initial debt ceiling compromise and an additional $1.2 trillion coming in sequesters, federal agencies and their employees are getting seriously squeezed.

Where is that money going to come from? Much of it will come from federal workers who are going to show up to work one day and be handed a pink slip because the agency they work for doesn’t have funding to make payroll.

Federal employees have done their part.

The push in the Senate to extend the federal pay freeze is especially unfair because the underlying justifications for the proposal are not based in fact, but in rhetoric. Many lawmakers – and others – have perpetuated the false narrative that federal employees are all overpaid Washington bureaucrats, and used it to justify further pay freezes, but this politically driven storyline is simply untrue.

Many in Congress make outlandish claims about federal workers being overpaid, but Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that on average federal employees are paid 26 percent less than private sector workers doing the same jobs. We’re not complaining about it, but the fact is federal employees are significantly underpaid, not overpaid.

Many in Congress pretend the majority of federal employees live and work in the Washington area, and that American tax-dollars do little more than subsidize the Capitol-area economy. In reality only about 15 percent of federal workers are based in the Washington area. The other 85 percent are spread throughout communities across the nation, with thousands of federal workers located in every state.

A large percentage of federal workers are stationed in rural communities where they serve at Defense bases, national parks and forests, and along our national borders. For many rural communities, the federal government is the primary employer in the area, and the very survival of these small towns is tied to the continued funding of the federal facilities located there.

Certainly, government makes up a bigger portion of the D.C. economy than most places, but every state in our nation benefits from the jobs created at federal agencies.

In all the political rhetoric surrounding the federal workforce, the biggest insult of all is the constant belittling of the critical services federal employees provide.

Who are these so-called bureaucrats and paper-pushers? They are the nurses and doctors who care for our veterans when they return from the war zone. They are the men and women who make certain our food and water supply is safe for our families’ consumption. They are the border patrol agents that protect our nation from drug and human smuggling.

And they are the folks who ensure every day that our military is armed, equipped, and ready to protect our nation from foreign enemies, domestic and foreign. Nobody can deny the invaluable service federal employees provide if you put aside the rhetoric about bureaucrats and look at the work that real federal employees actually perform every day.

This Senate assault on federal workers’ pay is just the latest in a series of unfounded attacks on the federal workforce including attempts to gut retirement security, decimate healthcare benefits, and impose mandatory furloughs. These attacks have got to stop.

This pay freeze proposal isn’t about cost-saving, it’s about respect. Those in Congress pushing this idea don’t respect federal workers.

In light of the fact that absolutely no revenue increases of any kind have been agreed to as part of a balanced deficit reduction plan, it is unthinkable that federal employees would be singled out again for a prolonged pay freeze. It’s unfair, and the Senate should reject this proposal.

William R. Dougan is the national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, a labor union that represents 110,000 federal employees at 40 different agencies and departments throughout the federal government.

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