Skimpy pay raises for federal workers a worry for Obama budget director


Skimpy pay raises for federal workers a worry for Obama budget director

Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget calls for a 1 percent raise for federal workers. Recent years have been worse, with pay freezes. There’s no ‘crash’ yet in workforce quality, but OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell worries it could happen.

By Linda Feldmann, Staff writer March 7, 2014Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Federal workers can be a favorite punching bag. Government shutdown? Furlough? Frozen pay? No problem, many Americans say, suggesting that those employed by Uncle Sam (outside the military) are overpaid and underworked.

The White House’s budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, sees things differently, and she has made maintaining and developing a high-quality federal workforce a top priority as head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – a problem that needs to be addressed now, she says.

“It’s a very challenging issue,” Ms. Burwell told reporters Friday at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. “I can’t tell you the point in time when we crash. It’s important enough we need to bear down.”

President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, released Tuesday, calls for a 1 percent pay raise for federal workers and includes a new initiative to improve workforce hiring and development. Civilian federal workers got their first pay increase this year – 1 percent, by presidential executive order – after three straight years of frozen pay.

The pay freeze, last fall’s partial government shutdown, and unpaid furloughs resulting from across-the-board spending cuts have all tried the patience of the federal workforce, which numbers a bit over 2.7 million people. Burwell says the federal government is still attracting high-quality people to its workforce, but attrition is a concern. The question is when and if there will be a “crash.”

“You see people getting ready to make choices,” Burwell continued. She says she hasn’t seen numbers showing “high-potential people” leaving at a much higher rate. “So I’m not sure when it’s going to happen,” she says. “I just want to prevent it.”

Burwell acknowledged that she thought long and hard before agreeing to move to Washington, D.C., last year to head OMB. Before that, she was president of the Walmart Foundation in Bentonville, Ark.

“I sat there with the yellow pad and like, OK, what are the pros and cons, what will be the things that will be difficult, let me think through this before we make a decision as a family,” said Burwell, who is married and has two young children.

Burwell says that when she got to Washington, she realized she had underestimated the impact that the budget battles had had in her department. “OMB had more furlough days than any other department or agency in the federal government,” she said. “Then OMB not only participates in the shutdown, we run most of the shutdown.”

The uncertainty takes a toll. Look at the federal employee survey scores, she says. “Those are scores we have to work on and change.”

Burwell was asked why the budget requested only a 1 percent raise for federal workers, and didn’t stake out a higher number, such as 2 or 3 percent, and then negotiate down.

“Wouldn’t 3 percent be nice,” she said. But “the question of how it relates to strategy is actually how it relates to reality in terms of numbers.”

Proposing a federal pay increase above 1 percent would have meant cutting other areas that are priorities, too, such as veterans benefits. She doesn’t know yet if the 1 percent pay increase will meet opposition on Capitol Hill.

The federal government employs 2 percent of the nation’s workforce, and in fact is at a 47-year low, as a percentage of the total workforce. In August 1966, the federal government had 2,721,000 civilian employees, or 4.3 percent of the workforce. In September 2013, before the shutdown, the figure was 2,723,000 employees, or 2 percent.

House Passes Bill Affecting Raise, IRS Bonuses

House Passes Bill Affecting Raise, IRS Bonuses
Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The House has passed a key spending bill that by remaining silent on a January 2015 federal employee raise takes a major step toward allowing one to occur. Voting on the financial services-general government bill (HR-5016) was the best opportunity for opponents of a raise to block one but no amendments to that effect were offered. By taking no position, the House has left the door open for a raise to be paid by default, which similarly happened last year. A default raise almost certainly would be the 1 percent the White House recommended earlier this year, which would be formalized by an order that would be due by the end of August. The counterpart Senate bill also is silent regarding a raise. One complication is that the White House has threatened to veto the House version over a number of policy provisions and reductions to IRS funding—which was lowered even more by amendments accepted after the veto threat was issued. The House also accepted an amendment to bar payment of performance awards to SES members at the IRS, mirroring a step it took in an earlier spending bill involving the VA. The bill already had contained a provision barring the payment of awards to any IRS employee unless the employee’s conduct and personal tax compliance is taken into account.



Unions push for larger federal pay raise

Unions push for larger federal pay raise

Feb. 26, 2014 – 05:19PM   |  By ANDY MEDICI   |
Senate Holds Hearing On U.S. Border Security
Sen Jon Tester added his voice to federal unions demanding a pay raise for federal employees that goes above the president’s planned 1 percent. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined federal employee unions in demanding a bigger pay raise than for federal employees. President Obama plans to propose a raise of 1 percent in the administration’s upcoming budget request.

Tester said while he does not have a specific pay raise in mind, 1 percent was not enough and he would work with federal employee groups to push for a bigger raise.

He said he thinks Congress will approve some form of federal employee raise this year. Continue reading “Unions push for larger federal pay raise”

Head of largest federal employee union calls for 4% pay raise in 2015

February 25, 2014

Contact:Tim Kauffman

Head of largest federal employee union calls for 4% pay raise in 2015

AFGE president says President Obama must send strong show of support for federal workforce

WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today called on President Obama to provide federal employees with a 4% pay raise next year.

Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget, to be unveiled next week, will propose a 1% across-the-board pay raise for federal employees and members of the military. But that is a pitiful amount that does little to help federal workers recover from a three-year pay freeze, higher retirement contributions and the loss of pay due to sequestration-related furloughs last year, Cox said. Continue reading “Head of largest federal employee union calls for 4% pay raise in 2015”

Obama to Propose 1 Percent Raise for Feds, Troops in FY15 Budget

Obama to Propose 1 Percent Raise for Feds, Troops in FY15 Budget

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

President Obama will propose a 1 percent pay raise for both civilian federal employees and service members in his fiscal 2015 budget, according to an administration official.

Obama’s recommendation, which he will unveil on March 4 as part of the budget release, proposes the same raise that federal workers received in 2014. The 2014 boost ended a three-year pay freeze for civilian workers, while military personnel have received a raise each year Obama has been in office. Continue reading “Obama to Propose 1 Percent Raise for Feds, Troops in FY15 Budget”

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