Democrats Block Bills Limiting Feds’ Bonuses, Workplace Rights

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Democrats on Wednesday temporarily blocked several Republican-backed bills targeting federal employees.

The legislation needed a two-thirds majority to pass under a “suspension of the rules” vote, which would have allowed an expedited approval. Republicans said the bills were necessary to “restore trust in the federal government.”

The Common Sense in Compensation Act would limit bonuses for rank-and-file federal employees to 5 percent of their base salaries. It also allows for no more than one-third of Senior Executive Service employees to receive bonuses at any given agency. These limitations would only exist while sequestration – a 10-year program, as laid out in current law -- is in effect.

The bill, along with others that would affect the rights and benefits of the federal workforce, sparked heated partisan debate about the sacrifices public-sector employees are making.

“We cannot continue to support such lucrative federal compensation,” said Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., pointing to a study that showed the average federal employee earns double the pay and benefits of his or her private-sector counterpart. “Federal employees are very fortunate to have their jobs and are very well paid,” Duncan said.  

Democrats disputed this claim, noting various studies show different results in the private versus public-sector pay comparison and adding federal employees have borne the brunt of cuts in recent years.

“Federal employees have taken it on the chin recently,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., who also pointed to the inconsistency between this bill and the much higher pay caps placed on federal contractors.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., deplored the Republican’s treatment of federal workers.

“This Congress has been the worst Congress for federal employees I have ever seen,” Hoyer said. “If you treated your private business workers the way you treat these federal employees, they’d all quit.”

He added: “This is the most competent, best educated civil service in the world. And we treat them as second-class citizens.”

The Citizens Empowerment Act -- which would allow citizens to record any conversation with federal employees acting in an official capacity without the consent of the employee -- was also pulled before receiving a full vote.  

While Republicans claimed the bill served only to protect the taxpayer and to allow feds to avoid a “he said, she said” exchange, Democrats said their colleagues were trying to score political points on the backs of federal workers.

In placing the blame of the nation’s problems on the workforce, “you do terrible damage to the courageous men and women who serve our nation,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “These are cynical calculations meant to serve a political purpose.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the bill risked “undermining criminal investigations by reducing the willingness of individuals to cooperate with law enforcement.” Cummings pointed to letters he received from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys in opposition to the measure.

Democrats also blocked the Government Employee Accountability Act, which would allow agencies to place Senior Executive Service employees on unpaid leave for up to 180 days if they are accused of misapplication of funds or other job-related misconduct.

While the bill easily cleared the House in the last Congress before dying in the Senate, Democrats opposed the bill this time around as a provision was added that allows an agency head to terminate an employee under investigation.

“This bill would deprive people of due process currently provided for them in law,” Lynch said. “This is called ready, fire, aim.”

Rep. Mike Kelly, D-Pa., defended the bill, saying it is necessary to hold employees accountable.

“This is not about the men and women who go to work every day for the government,” Kelly said. “This is not about stripping their rights.”

He later asked: “Should we not be concerned with what’s right for American citizens?”

A myriad of federal employee unions have voiced their opposition to these bills. The Democratic victory will likely be short-lived, as Republicans plan to condense the three proposals into one bill and hold a vote Thursday under a closed rule.

The House cleared several agency oversight bills with bipartisan support Wednesday, as part of its “Stop Government Abuse Week.” 

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
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.