Keith Lamond /

What the Election Results Mean for Federal Employees

A Republican-controlled Senate could be problematic for feds and agencies alike.

Republicans won control of the Senate Tuesday, with several lawmakers historically friendly toward federal employees defeated.

In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor was defeated by Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. Pryor sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight over the federal workforce. He is one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, but still generally recorded fed-friendly votes.  

With Republicans in control, Sen. Mitch McConnell -- who was declared an early winner in his own re-election race Tuesday -- will become the chamber’s leader. Asked how he would run the Senate, McConnell previously told Politico, “We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.”

The idea of appropriations bills containing controversial riders -- such as measures to roll back the Affordable Care Act or the regulatory power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency -- is an unsettling one for federal employees, who could once again face unpaid furlough days if bickering between Congress and the White House leads to another government shutdown.

Bill Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said he expects a Republican-controlled Senate would “wield a pretty big hammer as far as putting together a budget,” adding it could attempt to “do away with entire agencies or departments in the government.”

With Republicans in power, all of the chamber’s committees will flip to Republican leadership. That will likely mean Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., will chair the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Johnson is a conservative with a business background, and has taken up an array of issues affecting the federal workforce, from reducing government waste to bringing the U.S. Postal Service through bankruptcy. The committee’s current ranking member, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is retiring at the end of the year.

Republicans also maintained their hold in the House, meaning Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, or Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, will likely succeed Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa -- who as the House’s federal workforce point man called scores of hearings targeting federal employee incompetence and agency scandals, and shepherded dozens of bills through committee aimed at cutting benefits and increasing oversight -- will be term-limited as committee chair.

Most of those anti-fed bills either died on the House floor or were voted down or tabled in the Senate, but Dougan warned federal employees “may or may not have that same protection” with Republicans in control of the upper chamber. Still, Dougan said NFFE has friends “sympathetic to issues important to federal employees” in both chambers of Congress and on both sides of the aisle, and he would continue to work with them.

Federal employee advocates such as Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., all won re-election easily. Two heroes to the federal workforce, Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Frank Wolf, R-Va., will step down this year, but their replacements have vowed to fight for feds as their predecessors have.

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