Pay & Benefits Watch Pay & Benefits WatchPay & Benefits Watch
Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Super Secretive

So far the public hearings of the joint congressional deficit reduction committee have not addressed proposals related to federal pay and benefits, or really, any actual budget-cutting plans. Of course, that's probably the goal, since the 12 members of the super committee are intent on weighing and debating various deficit reduction ideas largely behind closed doors.

The latest hearing on Wednesday featured Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf in his second public appearance before the committee giving an overview of federal discretionary spending for the past 30-plus years. So where does this leave anxious federal workers? Recommendations from congressional committees that oversee the government workforce and other groups provide a decent snapshot of what could be at risk. Some ideas related to federal pay and benefits that have been submitted to the super committee for consideration include:

  • Cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition
  • Extending the two-year civilian pay freeze for as much as an additional three years
  • Eliminating step increases
  • Raising the Federal Employees Retirement System contribution by 6.2 percent
  • Increasing the Civil Service Retirement System contribution from 7 percent to 10 percent beginning in 2013
  • Eliminating FERS for new hires, and creating a defined contribution option to supplement the Thrift Savings Plan
  • Limiting the FERS minimum supplement to employees subject to mandatory retirement
  • Raising employees' pension contribution rate by 1.2 percent over three years beginning in 2013
  • Moving from a high-three to a high-five average salary calculation for retirement benefits
  • Allowing the Office of Personnel Management to negotiate pharmacy benefits, including drug prices, for all participants in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program
  • Mandating annual fees under TRICARE for Life, which pays beneficiaries' out-of-pocket Medicare costs. Fees would start at $200 in 2012 and increase annually to align with those paid by all TRICARE enrollees. TRICARE is the health care system for members of the military.
  • Excluding working-age military retirees from participating in TRICARE Prime, which offers the lowest out-of-pocket expenses of any Defense Department health plan.

Not surprisingly, federal employee groups and several lawmakers representing large blocs of government workers oppose many of these ideas and have sent several letters to the super committee expressing their concern over further cuts to federal pay and benefits. Matt Biggs, legislative and political director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said his group has met with most super committee members to plead its case on behalf of feds.

Biggs said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., has been the most helpful super committee member "when it comes to federal workers." That makes sense, as many feds live and work in Van Hollen's suburban Maryland district. "His office has been working with labor in gathering information and input as to how federal workers feel about being targeted once again as prime targets for reaching deficit reduction," Biggs said in an email. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who co-chairs the panel, assured the union she'd fight against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, according to Biggs. "Outside of this, we were not told a whole lot other than nobody really knew what the outcomes would be, including if there is no agreement," he said.

Nov. 1 is the next public hearing, which will feature testimony from a quartet of deficit reduction experts: former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson; former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles; former Office of Management Budget Director Alice Rivlin and former New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. That hearing is unlikely to shed any more light on federal pay and benefits proposals.

The lack of transparency related to super committee deliberations and the fate of federal workers notwithstanding, we'll all know soon enough who's getting the ax. The committee must vote on its $1.5 trillion deficit reduction plan by Nov. 23. The panel has to send its report to Congress and President Obama by Dec. 2, and both chambers must vote on the committee's bill by Dec. 23. Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts totaling as much as $1.2 trillion beginning in 2013 will be triggered if the committee cannot agree on a deficit reduction plan and Congress does not approve legislation by that date.

It will be an interesting -- and busy -- holiday season for us all.


Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • 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 Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • 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.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.