What a Marco Rubio Presidency Would Mean for the Federal Workforce

AJ Mast/AP

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined the presidential fray on Monday, throwing his name into the race for the White House in 2016.

Though Rubio’s time in the federal spotlight is relatively short -- he was first elected to the Senate in 2010 -- he has racked up a fairly long record on issues related to the federal workforce and management. The bottom line: federal employees would likely not fare particularly well in a Rubio presidency.

Rubio laid out his general adversarial feelings toward the federal government in his now notorious 2013 State of the Union response, saying government was more likely to get in the way than it was to encourage progress.

“More government isn’t going to help you get ahead,” Rubio said. “It’s going to hold you back. More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them. And more government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses and new private sector jobs. It’s going to create uncertainty.”

Here is a more detailed look at Rubio’s record on federal government issues:

Workforce

Rubio makes his thoughts on the federal workforce clear on his official Senate website, promising to “work to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy.” He put this philosophy into practice when he cosponsored a measure to reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition in 2011, which -- similar to a provision in the current and former Republican budgets -- would require agencies to cut 10 percent of their employees by hiring just one individual for every three who leave.

The Florida Republican sponsored the Senate version of a bill to ease the firing of Senior Executive Service employees at the Veterans Affairs Department by stripping them of certain due process rights. Rubio called the measure -- which was later adopted into law as part of a larger VA reform package -- a “common sense” initiative that would reduce the red tape involved in removing bad apples. Other advocates of the measure have said the VA law will serve as a model to eventually include all top-level managers across government.  

Rubio is regarded as a friend to the contracting community, once earning a 100 percent score from the Business Coalition to Fair Competition, an organization that advocates shrinking the federal footprint and objects to government insourcing. The freshman senator was seen as one of the ringleaders of the 2013 government shutdown, and was one of the few Republicans in the upper chamber to vote against the final deal to reopen agencies 16 days after they shuttered.

The presidential hopeful authored an original proposal to reform hiring at federal agencies, suggesting they reduce their dependence on applicants from “traditional” colleges and universities. The 2014 Alternative Qualifications for Federal Employment Act would have established a pilot program for the government to hire more applicants from unaccredited institutions. The measure would have tasked the Office of Personnel Management to designate certain positions throughout the government to be filled by applicants with “alternative” higher education credentials.

Employee Benefits

Rubio’s boldest initiative to reform federal employee benefits was his proposal to open the Thrift Savings Plan to all Americans without employer-sponsored retirement programs. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the TSP, was not a fan of the idea, saying it would greatly dilute the agency’s focus on its current federal employee and retiree participants. The plan received mixed reviews from policy-oriented institutes, but that included support from left and right-leaning think tanks.

President Obama also proposed opening up the TSP to the nation-at-large, saying all Americans should have access to the plan’s government securities (G) fund.

In another move targeting VA managers, Rubio was an original cosponsor on the 2015 VA Accountability to Veterans Act, which would limit the agency to giving just 30 percent of its senior executives top performance ratings and bonuses.

“To fix the VA and make sure it achieves its mission of providing high quality and timely health care to our veterans,” the senator said, “we must eliminate the culture of incompetence, negligence and underperformance that has been tolerated and, in some cases, even covered up for too long.”

Earlier in his Senate career, Rubio took a shot at feds’ health benefits, calling it “immoral” that the “bureaucrats” at VA have more options for their health care than the veterans they serve. He sought to protect health benefits in 2012 for military personnel, however, proposing to ensure certain TRICARE fee increases would not exceed the percentage increase of military retirement pay.

Agency Reforms

One of Rubio’s first proposals in Congress was to blindly cut agency spending by $45 billion. The 2011 Decrease Spending Now Act would have rescinded the funds already appropriated to federal agencies, calling on the Office of Management and Budget to determine where to make the cuts.

Earlier this year, Rubio endorsed a plan to essentially privatize veterans’ health care by turning the Veterans Health Administration into a non-profit government corporation that competes with the private sector for patients. Vets could choose private care, an expansion of sorts of the new VA law that allows certain qualified veterans to receive private care on the government’s dime.

“The challenges before our veterans have changed, and the way we provide service for them must change as well,” Rubio said. “The result of the current system is pretty straightforward: our veterans today are facing, and are met with, the same charm and the same efficiency from the Veterans Administration as they get from the Department of Motor Vehicles or the [Internal Revenue Service].”

He added: “I believe they deserve a lot better than that.”

Somewhat controversially, Rubio’s main diversion from his small government ethos is with the National Security Agency. The senator has endorsed permanently extending the legal framework that allows NSA to collect bulk U.S. phone metadata.

When Rubio’s campaign kicks into full gear in the coming weeks and months, expect ongoing rhetoric disparaging the federal government and its workers. 

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