Unions are anxious for details of spending freeze

Federal employee groups responded favorably to President Obama's first official State of the Union speech, but expressed some apprehension over the president's plans for a selective discretionary spending freeze and a commission to reduce the deficit.

"For me, the State of the Union address highlighted the important role federal employees have in addressing the nation's problems and implementing plans and programs for its future," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, in a statement.

But she said she hoped the president's fiscal 2011 budget request will support public servants. "It is critical we do not make budget and political decisions that deter us from continuing to rebuild the decimated federal workforce," she said.

On Wednesday night, Obama elaborated on a previous announcement that he would propose freezing most discretionary, nonsecurity spending for three years starting in fiscal 2011. He also pledged to issue an executive order advancing a deficit reduction commission plan the Senate rejected.

"Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't," the president told Congress. "And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. We will continue to go through the budget, line by line, page by page, to eliminate programs that we can't afford and don't work."

Kelley said it was too early to judge how the freeze would affect federal employees. "Since it is a top-line freeze, some agencies might get more than last year while others get less," she said.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said his union would continue to press congressional appropriators to ensure federal agencies receive adequate funding, and would wait to see how the proposed budget would affect staffing. He noted that while the freeze would affect overall discretionary spending, it would not place a cap on the number of federal employees.

"I never like these freezes, but as far as freezes go, this seems like a freeze-lite," Gage said. "I feel that … the federal worker friends in the House, including Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, are going to look with a jaundiced eye to this freeze, especially if there are indications that key agencies, which have been starved over these years, are not able to perform their key missions."

Gage added that he hoped efforts to bring work performed by contractors back in-house and to boost efficiency would allow agencies to rein in their budgets while still hiring more federal employees.

"The devil is in the details," said Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "We're anxiously awaiting the budget, especially for NASA."

The deficit reduction commission was another source for concern, though one union official noted he would rather see the panel established by executive order than by law.

Daniel Adcock, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said he had been worried about the commission targeting federal retirement and health benefits. That is less likely with an executive order, he said. Unlike the legislation the Senate blocked earlier this week, Obama's directive would not compel Congress to vote on the panel's deficit-cutting proposals without amendments.

"At this point, [the executive order] wouldn't necessarily result in this automatic fast-track procedure that we're concerned about," Adcock said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.