Sign up for Updates from AFGE!

: This information should not be downloaded using government equipment, read during duty time or sent to others using government equipment, because it suggests action to be taken in support or against legislation. Do not use your government email address or government phone in contacting your Member of Congress.

AFGE Main E-activist Group

Sign up for Updates from AFGE!

In order for you to know the latest events for your local and your agency, and to see how you and your colleagues can stand up for government workers, we need to make sure we can get in touch.

Fill in your contact information here and we’ll add you to our email list.

Join the AFGE Action Network

  • Agency Initials
  • Local number
  • I would like to receive text message alerts (Msg & data rates may apply)
  • Cell Phone
    • You may receive updates from AFGE Main E-activist Group,the sponsor of this form.
    • Edit Subscription Preferences

GOP Budget: Higher Pension Contributions for Feds, Much Lower Spending for Civilian Agencies

GOP Budget: Higher Pension Contributions for Feds, Much Lower Spending for Civilian Agencies

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and other Republican members of the House Budget Committee release the 2016 plan.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and other Republican members of the House Budget Committee release the 2016 plan. Cliff Owen/AP

House Republicans have once again called on federal employees to contribute more to their retirement, bringing back the effective pay cut in their fiscal 2016 budget blueprint.

Following the precedent set by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who no longer sits on the House Budget Committee, new Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., included a pension contribution hike for feds as part of the $5.5 trillion in total savings the budget proposed over the next 10 years.

“In keeping with a recommendation from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, this budget calls for federal employees—including members of Congress and congressional staff—to make greater contributions toward their own retirement,” thelegislative text stated.

While the plan did not specify exactly how much pension contributions would increase, the commission on fiscal responsibility – known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission – recommended “gradually” increasing federal civilian pensions “so that new federal employees ultimately pay about one-half the cost of their pensions, and existing federal employees pay one-quarter.”

A Budget Committee spokesman confirmed that the 50-50 split would amount to a 6.35 percent contribution level from feds, the same level Ryan’s budget recommended last year.

Congress has already raised the pension contribution level for newer employees twice in recent years, creating a three-tiered system in which employees pay between 0.8 percent and 4.4 percent of their paychecks toward their defined benefit, depending when they were hired.

More broadly, Price’s budget would officially maintain the across-the-board spending levels mandated by sequestration, but it would still boost Defense spending above the levels in President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request, through the use of additional funding in the Overseas Contingency Operations account technically reserved for emergency spending.

The plan did not spell out specific cuts to the federal workforce, but the cuts to non-defense agency budgets would likely result in hiring freezes and job losses. The plan would cut non-Defense funding by $759 billion below sequestration caps by 2025.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said the Republican proposal represented the “same old, same old,” and it was “not a serious budget.”

Van Hollen said the blueprint would “wreak havoc with the services that civil servants provide to Americans across the country.”  On the proposed increase to pension contributions, he added, “This is just a huge hit on hardworking federal employees.”

Asked whether the Republican budget moved the needle closer to a sequestration avoiding compromise similar to the one agreed to in 2013 by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Democrats’ House Budget point man said it was more of a step backward. He went on to lament it was “too early to say” if the framework was a step forward for resuming regular order in the budget and appropriations process, and staving off the specter of a government shutdown in September.

The American Federation of Government Employees slammed the proposal, saying Republicans are “slashing the compensation and jobs of hard-working federal employees.”

“Federal employees aren’t some faceless bureaucrats to be cut at a whim,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox, in a statement. “They are real people with real jobs who make a real difference in the lives of millions Americans every day…They deserve our respect and admiration, not the contempt and derision being presented in this budget.”

The plan did note that the embattled Veterans Affairs Department would receive sufficient funding. Republicans also promised to maintain their tight oversight of the agency.

“We will continue to closely monitor the VA to make sure they are accountable and transparent in their work,” Price wrote.

The resolution identified areas of redundancy and called on agencies to reduce waste and increase accountability. Price added the overall, governmentwide funding cuts were simply a necessary rollback of unfettered growth in recent years.

“These reductions are hardly draconian,” Price said. “Washington cannot keep spending money it does not have.”

To further reduce spending to reach a balanced budget in 10 years, House Republicans also proposed significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, creating a premium support system for Medicare and block grants for Medicaid.

The military would not be completely exempt from cuts, either. While overall Defense spending would rise under the Republican plan, the blueprint still proposed reductions to compensation for military personnel and retirees. Price embraced therecommendations made by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission earlier this year. The reforms, Price said, are “vital to sustaining the long-term fiscal health” of the military benefits.

“Under current law, if personnel compensation costs continue to grow as expected, they will inevitably crowd out critical defense spending on readiness and procurement,” Price wrote.

Senate Republicans plan to release their own budget Wednesday, and both chambers plan to vote on passage next week. Specific spending levels will then be determined during the annual appropriations process.

Even CBO Is Stumped on the Size of the Contractor Workforce

Even CBO Is Stumped on the Size of the Contractor Workforce

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., asked CBO to look into the size of the shadow workforce.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., asked CBO to look into the size of the shadow workforce. Brian Witte/AP

How many contractor employees does the federal government rely on, at what cost per person, and how does that compare with the cost of assigning the same task to a full-time hire?

When asked by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., ranking member of the House Budget Committee, the Congressional Budget Office took a shot but left the $64,000 question unresolved.

“Regrettably, CBO is unaware of any comprehensive information about the size of the federal government’s contracted workforce,” the nonpartisan analysts wrote in response. “However, using a database of federal contracts, CBO determined that federal agencies spent over $500 billion for contracted products and services in 2012.”

Spending on contracting grew between 2000 and 2012 more quickly than inflation and as a percentage of total federal spending, the response said. The fastest-growing category in dollars was contracts for professional, administrative and management services, CBO wrote—the top-expanding category being medical services.

But CBO’s efforts to deepen the analysis to help the lawmaker determine whether contracting is more expensive than hiring federal employees ran aground on shoals of incomplete data.

The Federal Procurement Data System–Next Generation (called FPDS-NG), the letter noted, “is the only comprehensive source of information about federal spending on contracts.” Still, the data in FPDS-NG are incomplete, and “several government reports have called the accuracy of some of those data into question,” the analysts said, noting there are 3,000 product or service codes that are ungrouped by topic.

CBO adopted 16 categories offered by the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies to calculate the share among agencies such as the Defense, Energy, Veterans Affairs and State departments, along with NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the National Institutes of Health.

“In recent years, DoD has started to collect and report the number of full-time equivalent positions funded by some of its service contracts,” CBO continued. “However, that report, called the Inventory of Contracts for Services (ICS), excludes contracts for products, as well as service contracts that are related to facilities. Furthermore, some of the data in ICS are reported by contractors, and other data are estimated by DoD officials. ICS is relatively new, and its accuracy and completeness are unknown.”

The Pentagon’s method does not factor in that contractors may perform tasks differently from an agency employee, using a small or less experienced workforce, trained differently and using different facilities, the scorers noted.

That database, CBO concluded, does not by itself allow analysts to compare the cost of performing a task with contracted employees against the cost of performing the same task with federal employees.

Critics of contracting such as the American Federation of Government Employees and the Project on Government Oversight have long expressed skepticism that contracting is cheaper than hiring government workers. Advocates for contractors, such as the Professional Services Council, disagree and call for a public-private balance.

Will Republicans Target Feds With a Return to the Ryan Budget?

Will Republicans Target Feds With a Return to the Ryan Budget?

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is no longer chairman of the Budget Committee, but the cuts to federal workers' benefits in his past proposals might live on.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is no longer chairman of the Budget Committee, but the cuts to federal workers’ benefits in his past proposals might live on. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

During his four-year tenure as the panel’s chairman, Ryan laid out several blueprints for the government’s budget. They attempted to eliminate the federal deficit, which meant draconian cuts to federal agencies’ spending levels. It also meant direct attacks on federal employees, including proposals for: a 10 percent cut in the size of the workforce, higher retirement pension contribution levels, the elimination of the annuity supplement for certain young federal retirees and the end of student loan repayment for federal employees.

Ryan’s budget proposals twice passed the House, but were held up in the Senate. That could all change with Republicans taking control of the upper chamber. While Ryan has moved on to the position of the House’s top tax man, his ideas linger over the congressional budget committees. His successor, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and the Senate budget leader, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., will bring separate proposals forward next week. Both are expected to seek a balanced budget by 2025.

“A balanced budget is essential for strong economic growth and job creation,” Enzi said at a hearing this week. “Working together, we can deliver real solutions, real results and real progress if we find common ground and cooperate to get things done.”

He added: “Over the past six years, we have learned that wasteful Washington spending doesn’t solve problems, it only side-steps them. By spending responsibly and putting our fiscal books in order in a balanced and responsible way, we can restore the trust that we have broken with the American people.”

Enzi’s ranking member, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,  said this will likely spell a rehash of old ideas.

The Republican budget will look “a heck of a lot” like Ryan’s proposals, Sanders said at a press conference this week. A spokesman for Enzi declined to comment on which federal workforce provisions will be included in the senator’s plan.

The resurfacing of Ryan’s budget priorities would not come as a surprise to federal employees, with unions warning after the midterm election its return could squeeze the workforce at time when its responsibilities are growing.

Not everyone thought it was a good idea to balance the budget on the backs of federal workers. Mark Blyth, a professor of political economy at Brown University, told Enzi’s committee in prepared testimony at this week’s hearing that funding feds can help spark the economy:

Now consider a government employee whose income is generated by taxes, taxes that also bought the Apple Computer that she uses to process a [National Institutes of Health] grant that goes to a researcher at a state university. That researcher, funded by the federal government, goes on to invent a molecule that the pharmaceutical industry buys and turns into a major new therapy. Yet we tend to see this as ‘unproductive spending.’ Yet what is the difference between the two, especially when that same federal worker goes to the supermarket and shops with her government paycheck at the end of the week, and spends more than our heroic author? Does that not add to the economy either? Somehow we seem to think not.

Democrats pledged to inject their priorities into the plan by offering amendments. Former Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she hopes to build off of the two-year agreement she reached with Ryan in 2013. That measure partially rolled back sequestration cuts, though it also required new feds to pay more into their retirements.

“Hopefully it won’t take another government shutdown for Republicans to join us,” Murray warned.

Lawmakers Bicker Over Treatment of Feds in First Oversight Committee Meeting

Lawmakers Bicker Over Treatment of Feds in First Oversight Committee Meeting

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the new chairman of the oversight panel. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The House panel with primary oversight of the federal workforce and agency operations got off to a contentious start in its first meeting Tuesday, with nominal calls for bipartisanship overshadowed by political bickering.

Largely at issue was the process for subpoenaing individuals to testify before the committee and agencies to submit information; at one point the discussion devolved into a debate over how to recruit workers to federal service.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, began his first address as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee offering olive branches to the Democratic minority and with promises to work together in ways where his predecessor, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., failed. He also spoke highly of the federal workforce, calling the employees “wonderful,” “diligent” and “patriotic.”

He added, however, there are bad apples at every agency, and “we have to address those.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who served in the same position under Issa, said the last four years were marked by acrimony. Issa’s reign was a “stain on this committee’s integrity and an embarrassment to the House of Representatives,” Cummings said.

While Chaffetz promised to lead the committee in a new direction, Democrats met his first act — to approve the committee’s rules for the 114th Congress — with significant pushback. Democrats took issue with Chaffetz’s plan to continue empowering the chairman to issue subpoenas without a vote or consultation with the minority party.

Cummings warned Chaffetz about going into “Issa mode,” while Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said Chaffetz and other committee chairmen were “Issa-tizing” the House.

“This is about Republicans not wanting public debate on subpoenas,” Cummings said. “This is a big deal to us. We do not want to slip into darkness.”

Chaffetz defended the rule, arguing federal agencies in the Obama administration have shown resistance to offering testimony and information. An expedited subpoena process is necessary, Chaffetz said, to avoid further delay in receiving what the committee needs.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Congress must treat witnesses from federal agencies with respect, or “people won’t want to go into government.”

Top-level employees that agencies seek to recruit “have many options,” Maloney said. “They can go into many fields.”

The committee eventually approved the rules, and struck down an amendment to require votes on whom and what to subpoena, by a party line vote. The lawmakers also approved a measure to give certain veterans-turned-civil-servants more up front sick leave, as well as a bill to force federal agencies to provide additional information on the expected costs of their regulations.