GOP Budget Calls for Smaller Federal Workforce, Less Generous Benefits

By Kellie Lunney

March 12, 2013

This story has been updated. 

House Republicans again are calling for a smaller government workforce and less generous compensation for federal employees to help reduce the overall budget deficit.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled his fiscal 2014 budget blueprint Tuesday morning, which proposes increasing the amount feds contribute to their pensions and changing pay and benefits to “better align” with the private sector. Reforming federal compensation would save an estimated $132 billion over the next decade, claimed Ryan, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee. The document did not specify how much more feds and lawmakers should contribute to their retirement benefits, though it did say “in keeping with a recommendation by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility.” Ryan also did not mention a specific number during a Tuesday press conference on the budget proposal.

The bipartisan panel, known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission, recommended in 2010 a series of changes to federal employees’ retirement systems, including using the highest five years of earnings to calculate benefits rather than the current “high three,” and deferring the cost-of-living adjustment for retirees until age 62.

The 2012 vice presidential candidate said the federal workforce deserves to be fairly paid but not at the expense of other hard-working Americans. “Immune from the effects of the recession, federal employees have received regular salary bumps regardless of productivity or economic realities,” the budget framework said. The document called the federal workforce “some of the best educated and most dedicated people in America.” The budget document did not call for an extension of the pay freeze, unlike Ryan’s fiscal 2013 proposal.

Ryan’s blueprint cites a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report that found federal workers earned 16 percent more in total compensation than their private-sector counterparts. That study, however, also found differences in compensation based on education; for example, CBO determined that higher-educated feds earned less in total compensation than their private-sector peers.

The GOP budget proposal, dubbed “The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible Balanced Budget,” also recommends reducing the government workforce by 10 percent through attrition by 2015, estimating that it would save $49 billion over 10 years. Where the framework seeks to reduce pay and benefits to civilian federal employees, it pledges to provide service members with the "best equipment, training and compensation for their continued success.” It also carves out more money for veterans. “Veterans are, and will remain, the highest priority within this budget,” Ryan’s proposal stated.

The Republican plan overall seeks to balance the budget in a decade and reduce spending by $4.6 trillion during that time through reforming the tax code and entitlement programs, and streamlining other government programs. “An unbalanced budget is a sign of overreach. When government does too much, it doesn’t do anything well,” the document said.

It would also extend the spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act to last two years longer than originally planned, through 2023. A significant portion of the document outlines proposals for making government more efficient and less wasteful by eliminating improper payments; selling off unnecessary federal assets, such as land and buildings; and reducing the government’s vehicle fleet by 20 percent. Ryan specifically mentioned the Transportation Department and federal farm programs as areas ripe for spending cuts.

The “bureaucracy” and “federal bureaucrats” are referred to several times throughout the document regarding proposals like repealing Obamacare and giving states more flexibility over administering anti-poverty programs. The GOP proposal argues for a government that ensures accountability but doesn’t hamstring individuals or states with too much red tape. For instance: “The federal government must ensure financial markets are fair and transparent,” the blueprint stated. “And it must hold accountable those who violate the rules. But federal bureaucrats should not micromanage the system or protect Wall Street bankers from the risks they are taking.”

The Democratic budget resolution, which House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland will unveil next week, likely will be a stark contrast to Ryan’s outline. The Democrat called the House Republican budget proposal “totally lopsided” and “totally uncompromising,” saying it will hurt working Americans. “They claim they are ‘reigniting the American Dream’ -- but only for those who have already succeeded, while smothering it for everyone else,” Van Hollen said.

Federal employee representatives also were critical of Ryan's proposal. J. David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Government Executive that federal employees had already given $122 billion in the name of deficit reduction, and that the plan was "pitiful to all workers." He said the budget resembled the ideas that Ryan stumped on during the election, even though "the American people did not elect Paul Ryan as a vice president." 

Cox said that Ryan "uses federal employees as a whipping boy" in his budget proposal, and is surprisingly lax on well-paid contractors. Ryan has been consistently opposed to caps on contractor pay, and even wants the government to use more service contracts, Cox said. 

"He’s not opposed to the government spending money," Cox said. "He just doesn’t want to spend it on federal employees."  

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said Ryan's budget proposal would also be detrimental to essential public services. “Federal employees are not the only casualties of these constant political attacks," she said in a statement Tuesday. "The public suffers as well when federal agencies lack sufficient resources to carry out their missions in the manner Americans need and expect.” 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Republicans’ math “just doesn’t add up” and also criticized the GOP proposal for targeting the middle class. “By choosing not to ask for a single dime of deficit reduction from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected, this budget identifies deep cuts to investments like education and research -- investments critical to creating jobs and growing the middle class,” Carney said in a statement. 

Other Republicans offered praise for Ryan’s blueprint. House Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said he was “grateful” to Ryan for offering “a serious legislative solution” to the country’s fiscal problems while also protecting the military. "To budget is to govern. Chairman Ryan was able to craft a budget that restores balance over ten years, provides needed resources to national security, and reforms unsustainable entitlement programs,” McKeon said in a statement. “In contrast, President Obama's budget is more than a month late and we have at least a month to go before the White House will even begin to outline their plans.”

The White House is expected to release its fiscal 2014 budget recommendation in early or mid-April. The president is supposed to release his annual budget proposal by the first Monday in February. 

Kedar Pavgi contributed to this report


By Kellie Lunney

March 12, 2013

http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2013/03/gop-budget-calls-smaller-federal-workforce-less-generous-benefits/61813/