Republican Barbara Comstock has a slight lead in the close race to replace fed-friendly Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Republican Barbara Comstock has a slight lead in the close race to replace fed-friendly Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Congressional Candidates Vie for Mantle of Next Federal Employees’ Hero

As two fed-friendly lawmakers from Northern Virginia retire, new federal advocates seek office.

Two long-serving lawmakers who for decades have represented the interests of federal employees in Congress are stepping down at the end of the year, creating a vacuum of advocacy for the federal workforce on Capitol Hill.

Their potential successors, however, have vowed to pick up where Virginia Reps. Jim Moran, D, and Frank Wolf, R, will leave off. The race to fill Wolf’s seat, which has been held by a Republican since congressman first won the seat 34 years ago, is now seen as one of the more competitive House races in the country.

That contest is featuring Virginia state Del. Barbara Comstock, the Republican candidate and a former Wolf aide, and Democratic nominee John Foust, a Fairfax County supervisor. Wolf has long been the most fed-friendly Republican in Washington, often the only member of his caucus to fight for issues like pay raises and boosting telework. Comstock promised to follow in the tradition of her predecessor and former boss, and said she has made advocating for the federal workforce a pillar of her campaign.

“Most places I go I ask ‘How many people here are federal employees?’ ” Comstock, herself a former Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department official, told Government Executive. “I will very much be in the tradition of Congressman Wolf. I believe in the approach he’s taken with federal employees in terms of being their advocate and understanding they are a part of the solution.”

She added her advocacy will be important because “some in the Republican Party may not understand the value [federal employees] bring to work.”

Most prognosticators consider Comstock a slight favorite, though she faces a formidable challenger in Foust, who also promised to be a strong voice for federal employees.

“We need to ensure our federal workforce and retirees are respected for the work they do and treated fairly,” Foust told Government Executive. “Republican desires to outsource government jobs and institute pay freezes are not what our hard working federal workers deserve.”

Despite Comstock’s pro-workforce rhetoric, Foust and outside groups have attacked Comstock for anti-union actions. Comstock is a vocal advocate of “right to work” legislation, which generally aims to chip away at unions’ ability to require employees to pay dues (federal employees are already protected against such a requirement). She has ushered three bills through the Virginia state legislature aimed at reducing union’s power and influence, and has recently received criticism for not disclosing that she was a paid consultant of a conservative group that promoted such policies. 

While a large swath of the federal workforce is unionized, Comstock doesn’t see a conflict because “there’s a difference between public and private unions.” Still, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 670,000 federal workers, has endorsed Foust, saying he would be a “champion for the federal workforce.”

Comstock said she would represent federal employees regardless of the endorsement.

“I will represent my constituents and represent them fairly,” she said.

The race to replace Moran, who has served for 24 years, is far less competitive. Barring a major upset, former Virginia Lt. Gov. Don Beyer will take over for perhaps the No. 1 pro-fed lawmaker come 2015. Beyer said his advocacy will focus on three areas: reversing the trend of punishing federal workers “because of the inability to manage Congress effectively;” guard as much as possible civil service protections for the workforce, especially in light of the reaction to the recent Veterans Affairs Department scandal; and restore the esteem in which federal employees are held by the American public.

Beyer said following in Moran’s footsteps “adds to the pressure” of serving in Congress and his federal employee constituents, but he plans to seek the soon-to-be-former lawmaker’s counsel often. He added that if elected, he will take advantage of every opportunity he has from the House floor to “elevate and celebrate” the federal workforce and the work it does.

“When we tell the country federal employees aren’t worth a raise, that tells a lot about what we think about federal employees,” he said.