House Revives Rule Making It Easier to Cut Federal Employees' Pay, Slash Workforce

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said the rule is "nothing more than a backdoor way for Republicans to dismantle the federal workforce and carry out political vendettas at the expense of career civil servants." Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said the rule is "nothing more than a backdoor way for Republicans to dismantle the federal workforce and carry out political vendettas at the expense of career civil servants." Susan Walsh/AP file photo

The House this week voted to extend into 2018 a rule making it easier for lawmakers to eliminate federal jobs and enabling them to reduce the salaries of federal employees.

Republicans brought back what is known as the Holman Rule at the beginning of the 115th Congress, but it had been scheduled to remain in place for only one year. Lawmakers included the extension in an unrelated procedural vote.

The rule, which had been banned since 1983, enables lawmakers to reduce the number of federal workers at specific agencies or cut their compensation as a provision of or an amendment to an appropriations bill. They can cut the rolls or compensation for employees only at the agencies covered by the specific spending bill in which the provision or amendment is included. The salary reductions can target only those employees whose salaries are paid from the Treasury.

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Congress never successfully used the Holman rule in 2017. The closest effort involved an attempt to slash one-third of the employees in the Congressional Budget Office, which was easily defeated on the House floor. Lawmakers also put forward amendments to strip the salaries of any employee working full time on official time (meaning anyone working on representational union activity) or anyone “not subject to at-will employment” (virtually all the civil servants at the agencies that fell under the spending bill), but those provisions did not make it out of committee.

The House Policy Committee said when it first passed the rule last year that was intended to “provide members with additional tools to reduce spending during consideration of the regular general appropriation bill.” Federal employee advocates warned it would instead lead to lawmakers unfairly scapegoating public servants.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., accused House Republicans of sneaking in the rule extension “without any public debate.”

“This archaic tool, also known as the Armageddon Rule, is nothing more than a backdoor way for Republicans to dismantle the federal workforce and carry out political vendettas at the expense of career civil servants,” Connolly said. He added that since Republicans attempted to invoke the measure on the non-partisan CBO, “no one is safe.”

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