Senator To Focus on Federal Employee Pay, Morale

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Charles Dharapak/AP File Photo

This story has been updated.

A key lawmaker with jurisdiction over the federal workforce plans to hold a hearing to “examine the state of the federal workforce,” which will include ensuring federal employees’ compensation stays competitive with the private sector.

In addition to pay issues, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., hopes to focus on how the government can improve the public’s perception of its employees. Tester spoke Wednesday at the legislative conference of the National Treasury Employees Union, telling the crowd he wanted to make sure the public respected the work feds do and the sacrifices they make.

“Each of you became public servants for a reason,” Tester said. “Some of you love your work. Others love the idea of making our country the best it can be. But you all make sacrifices to serve your fellow Americans.”

Tester, who leads the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs federal workforce subcommittee, will scrutinize the morale of federal workers, including the effects of the government shutdown, sequestration and freezes on hiring and pay. The senator will highlight what agencies with high employee satisfaction ratings are doing right, and examine the initiatives those with poor ratings are pursuing to improve their standing. 

Tester feels the 1 percent raise for civilian employees in 2015 proposed by President Obama is too low and will work “to find a better solution,” according to a spokesman, Dan Malessa. The moderate Democrat may propose legislation to address morale issues, Malessa said, but will wait to see the results of the hearing.

In his address Wednesday, Tester said federal employees are not fairly compensated for their responsibilities.

“Politicians like to demand an efficient and effective federal government,” he said, “but you’d never know it judging by the way they view and treat workers like you.”

In addition to pay freezes and relatively small raises, Tester pointed to retirement benefits and workers’ compensation benefits as areas in which feds have been unfairly threatened. Tester attempted to strip the workers' comp provision -- which would reduce the benefit provided to former employees once they reach retirement age -- during the postal bill's markup and voted against its passage in committee. Additionally, he said, sequestration and the shutdown sent a message that the work federal employees do is not valuable.

“It implied that your work isn’t essential, but we all know that isn’t true.”

The hearing, which will happen in late April or early May, also will look into “innovative programs and actions” agencies are pursuing to find and retain individuals who serve in hard-to-recruit jobs.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify the intent of any possible legislation from Sen. Tester. 

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