White House Floats Federal Employee Pay Reform, Privatization in Name of Innovation

President Trump speaks to airline executives on Thursday. President Trump speaks to airline executives on Thursday. Evan Vucci/AP

The White House this week promised to “innovate and update government,” and has already started rolling out reform ideas in the areas of federal pay and moving current government functions to the private sector.

The changes are part of an effort to bring a newfound focus on spending taxpayer dollars efficiently, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday. The administration, he said, is reviewing “all aspects of government.” Spicer said further announcements are forthcoming on the reforms President Trump will implement.

One area ripe for change: federal employees’ compensation.

“The bottom line is that we should be paying people a fair wage for their service to this country, but that we should doing it in the most effective and efficient manner,” Spicer said. “But there’s going to be a respect for taxpayers in this administration, so that whether it's salaries or actual positions or programs, [Trump’s] going to have a very, very tough look at how we’re operating government, how many positions they're in, what people are getting paid.”

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Spicer added the Trump administration will examine “how many people [we] are hiring, what they’re paid, what programs we’re looking at, whether or not that program is duplicative.” The review will not focus on one area or agency, but instead “at how government as a whole operates.”

Trump on Thursday floated one program he will evaluate for potential overhaul, expressing an openness to privatizing the air traffic control operations at the Federal Aviation Administration. The president met with leaders in the aviation industry, who pitched Trump on the idea of turning air traffic control over to a non-profit corporation run by a board in which all stakeholders -- including the government -- would have a seat. Trump said if that system had been in place, many current cost overruns and outdated technologies currently inhibiting FAA would not have arisen.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced last year a bill to accomplish what the aviation industry presented to the president. Shuster promoted his bill as a way to “remove 30,000 people from the federal government’s payroll.”

Under the legislation, the non-profit corporation would not make any budget requests and would receive no taxpayer dollars. It would instead operate on a “self-sustaining, cost-based user fee structure.” That structure would break air traffic control “free from the bureaucratic inertia and funding uncertainty that have plagued the FAA for decades,” Shuster wrote in a description of the bill.

Convincing Trump to follow that approach could prove more difficult for the reform proponents.

“The problem is, I don't like raising fees or taxes, I'll be honest,” Trump said after one airline official noted the airport fee had not been raised in 16 years. The president suggested his administration would instead re-appropriate money the government currently spends in the Middle East.

“Don't worry about the money,” Trump said. “I'll be able to get the money.”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association backed Shuster’s bill last year, but pointed to “the status quo of unstable, unpredictable funding” for FAA as the primary driver for its endorsement. Other labor groups representing airport and FAA employees rejected the proposal, saying it would lead to the implementation of agendas that do not serve the public interest. 

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