Republican victory sets stage for new agenda

NTEU’s Colleen Kelley says she is “alarmed” by political climate. NTEU’s Colleen Kelley says she is “alarmed” by political climate. Jennifer Trezza/

With Republicans regaining control of the House, federal employees and government contractors are facing significant policy shifts on issues such as pay, hiring, and agency oversight and management.

House Republicans this fall pledged to reduce government size, streamline spending and freeze hiring for all nonsecurity-related federal positions. Party lawmakers have introduced legislation that would furlough all federal civilian workers for up to two weeks in 2011, make those with outstanding tax debts ineligible for continued government employment, and cap the federal workforce through attrition, or by allowing agencies to hire only one employee for every two employees who leave. Under a Republican-controlled House, the committee charged with overseeing government operations also will change its focus.

Representatives for federal unions and management groups on Wednesday said they are ready for an uphill battle on issues affecting the government workforce.

"If the priority of the new majority is the priority of the old minority, I think we're going to have some fights on our hands," said Jessica Klement, government affairs director for the Federal Managers Association.

"I am alarmed by the current political climate for federal employees, who have been made scapegoats during a challenging economic period," said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. "NTEU will continue to stand up and oppose any legislation that undermines the federal workforce, or undercuts critical services."

Kelley noted proposals to cut federal pay, freeze hiring and mandate two-week furloughs are based on misinformation about government employees, and vowed to work with both parties on issues like health care costs and compensation.

Industry groups insist that contractors will remain in the spotlight under the Republican majority in the House, with expected cuts to agency's procurement budgets, enhanced scrutiny of Defense Department programs and, possibly, a slowdown of federal insourcing programs.

"We expect open government and transparency initiatives to continue, particularly as House leaders seek to challenge administration policies and root out waste, fraud and abuse," said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Service Council, a contractor trade association.

Much of next year's market for service contracts will be determined by Congress during the lame-duck session and how to deal with the Dec. 3 sunset of the continuing resolution, Chvotkin said. "Either way, the budget will be austere and agencies will be pressed to stretch their dollars," he said. "This could affect already planned procurements, or new spending in the pipeline for FY 2011."

Reform agenda

The election will lead to dramatic changes on the committee charged with government reform, providing oversight of the Obama administration and managing the federal workforce. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a fierce Obama critic who has vowed to bring accountability and transparency to government operations, will be chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the 112th Congress.

"The American people have sent a clear and direct message to Washington that they want less spending, limited government and more accountability," Issa said Tuesday night. "The mandate is clear: Advance an agenda that will create real jobs, not government jobs, but real jobs to get our economy moving again. Reduce the footprint of government in our lives, get government to live within its means and make government more transparent and accountable."

Nicknamed the "Annoyer-in-Chief" by The New York Times, Issa has signaled that he will focus on the oversight of stimulus spending, the health care legislation, federal agency performance management and domestic terrorism. One of his top priorities, which could attract bipartisan support, will be to provide subpoena power to the government's inspectors general community. Currently, only the Defense IG has such authority. Issa told reporters on Tuesday the committee also will consider postal reform legislation.

In addition, Issa is considering changing the name of the committee back to Government Reform and Oversight. Former committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., flipped the name when he took the gavel in 2007 as a sign that he would intensify oversight of the Bush administration.

There are other changes in store for the Oversight Committee. Of most significance to government employees is the likely emergence of Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah to chair the subcommittee tasked with overseeing the federal workforce and the U.S. Postal Service. Chaffetz angered many federal employees and labor unions earlier this year when he introduced a bill to fire government workers who owe back taxes.

It remains unclear who will emerge as the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee. There was a brief intraparty battle for the chairmanship when Waxman left the committee in 2008, with Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., emerging victorious. Some have speculated there could be renewed interest in the ranking member seat -- a perch which would allow Democrats to challenge Issa's policy and priorities.

Last week, Towns' office declined to speculate on whether he would seek the role of ranking member of the committee if Republicans take control. His office declined to comment on Wednesday.

Some familiar faces on the committee also will not be returning, swept out of office in the tidal wave of Republican House wins. Reps. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa.; Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio; Bill Foster, D-Ill.; and Joseph Cao, R-La., all lost their seats. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., is in a tight race that has yet to be decided. Three other committee members are retiring: Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.; Diane Watson, D-Calif.; and Paul Hodes, D-N.H. (Hodes ran for Senate and lost.)

On the Senate side, little will change for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Returning Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, have a positive working relationship. The roster of the federal workforce subcommittee is changing, however. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, long active in federal employee issues, is retiring and will be replaced by Republican Sen.-elect Rob Portman. Appointed Sens. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., and Roland Burris, D-Ill., will not return.

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