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The Trump Budget’s Assault on Federal Workers

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GPO worker Christina McGier straightens pages during a production run of President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 federal budget on May 19. GPO worker Christina McGier straightens pages during a production run of President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 federal budget on May 19. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A budget is supposed to reflect the president’s priorities and the values our country holds dear. Unfortunately, the budget President Trump recently sent to Congress shows how much disdain he has for federal employees and the taxpayers they help and support every day.

Civil servants perform countless tasks that assist, defend and protect Americans. They are saving lives, empowering small businesses, keeping America safe from harm, and otherwise ensuring a safe and prosperous future for our country, children and families. Many of our federal employees perform jobs that no one else can do, often in places no one else would work.

In early May, the president issued a proclamation declaring May 7-13 Public Service Recognition Week. He stated: “Throughout my first 100 days, I have seen the tremendous work civil servants do to fulfill our duty to the American people. At all levels of government, our public servants put our country and our people first.” 

The appreciation apparently was short-lived, however, as immediately thereafter President Trump released a budget request that punishes federal workers by making them pay much more for their pensions—an additional $5,000 for the average federal worker—while making those pensions much smaller.

The relentless assault on the federal workforce must end. The civilian workforce was smaller last year than it was 40 years ago, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management. Like private sector workers, federal workers increasingly have been asked to do more with less. Also like private sector workers, federal workers have made sacrifices during tough financial times.

Federal workers contributed $190 billion to deficit reduction since 2011 alone. Workers hired since 2012 already are paying more for smaller pensions; sequestration-related furloughs cost federal workers more than $1 billion in lost pay; and from 2011 to 2013, there was the pay freeze. Annual raises since then have been microscopic.  

Salaries and wages have fallen by 6.5 percent since 2010, adjusted for inflation. And now comes the latest attack on federal workers’ pensions, on top of continued attacks on pay, health care, collective bargaining and due process rights.

President Trump would eliminate annual cost-of-living adjustments for people in the Federal Employee Retirement System—including for current retirees—and reduce them by half a percentage point for people in the old Civil Service Retirement System—including for current retirees. 

According to certified financial planner Art Stein, a FERS annuity would lose one-third of its value over 20 years if inflation averages between 2 percent and 3 percent annually (and nearly one-half of its value if inflation averages 4 percent). According to the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the average FERS annuitant would lose approximately $100,000 over 20 years and the average CSRS annuitant would lose $60,000 over 20 years under the Trump budget. Again, we aren’t just talking about people who are still working. We are talking about current retirees—people in their 60s and 70s and older who will not be able to re-enter the workforce to make ends meet.

I am proud to represent so many feds who live or work in Maryland, but it’s important to understand that 85 percent of the federal workforce is located beyond the Washington metropolitan area. Federal workers are in big cities and small towns across America, striving to make things better for their neighbors. Is it the best use of taxpayer resources to engage in a race to the bottom with respect to our federal workers? These are the people who make sure our parents’ Social Security checks arrive on time. They make sure the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are safe. They are trying to find a cure for our spouses’ cancer and our siblings’ Type 1 Diabetes. They support our sons and daughters in harm’s way, and they care for our wounded warriors at home. They patrol our borders and discover and disrupt terrorist threats aimed at our communities.

Federal workers are working to ensure that our grandchildren inherit an economy and an Earth that is still livable. When we punish federal workers—30 percent of whom are veterans—with one of the worst budgets put forward in decades, we aren’t just harming them and their families. We are harming each and every American.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin is Maryland’s senior senator. He is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and a member of the Committees on Finance and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

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