Chaffetz Discusses Civil Service and Benefits Reforms With Trump at White House

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has promised sweeping reforms to feds' retirement benefits and job security. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has promised sweeping reforms to feds' retirement benefits and job security. Molly Riley/AP

This story has been updated with additional details from Chaffetz's meeting.

Congress’ government oversight leader and the chief crusader for civil service reforms met with President Trump Tuesday with plans to bring up his ideas for change.

Trump himself called the meeting, Chaffetz told reporters Tuesday morning, adding he was “not sure” why it was happening. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman has promised to hold the Trump administration accountable and said he would not be the president’s “cheerleader,” though to date one of the only investigations he has promised is into the Office of Government Ethics for criticizing Trump’s conflicts of interest. Chaffetz has also vowed to look into Trump’s Old Post Office lease with the General Services Administration. 

“The chairman looks forward to the opportunity of having a conversation about his reform agenda,” a Chaffetz spokesperson said of Tuesday's meeting.

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At the outset of the 115th Congress, Chaffetz promised to bring sweeping reforms to federal employees’ retirement benefits, job security and even the location of their offices. The oversight chairman said his committee will push to move new federal hires to receive only a defined-contribution benefit, like the Thrift Savings Plan. He said he must “still work the math” as to whether those employees would receive a more generous government contribution toward the 401(k) equivalent to make up for the loss of a pension, but did promise a “healthy” match from agencies. Chaffetz promised to protect employees already vested in their pensions.

The White House has endorsed the need to reform the retirement and health care benefits federal employees receive. Chaffetz told reporters after his meeting he brought up the support in his committee for moving federal employees off a defined benefit pension system. He also said he and Trump discussed civil service reform generally, as well as changes to the U.S. Postal Service.

The chairman has said he has spoken to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., about his plans, and Ryan knows it is “on my list of to-dos.” He added he has not worked out the avenue for the retirement reform, such as whether it would be through a standalone bill or budget reconciliation.

Chaffetz has said his committee is considering ways to shrink the size of the federal workforce. Republicans are “looking at” legislation to require two or three federal employees to leave before agencies could hire one new worker. Per a Trump memorandum, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management are currently creating a long-term plan for reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition.

“There are a lot of good, quality workers,” Chaffetz said in January, “but there are too many of them.”

Another area for potential overlap with the administration is at the Veterans Affairs Department. Chaffetz said his committee will look to expand the reforms aimed at expediting terminations for Senior Executive Service members at the VA. Asked about easing the firing of VA employees on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said "if there are things that are an impediment" to providing the best care to veterans, "we can figure out how to expedite that process." 

Chaffetz said the committee will establish a clearer definition of what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual assault for federal workers, noting it currently varies from agency to agency. The goal, ultimately, is to make “rules for them to be dealt with in a much quicker manner,” he said. He expressed a wariness of pursuing across-the-board reforms to federal firing procedures, saying he would prefer to tackle the issue at individual agencies or in regard to particular issues. He also said Congress should pursue changes to the way agencies handle the SES separately from the rest of the federal workforce.

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