Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., speaks during the Republican Study Committee news conference to unveil their FY2025 budget proposal on March 21, 2024.

Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., speaks during the Republican Study Committee news conference to unveil their FY2025 budget proposal on March 21, 2024. Bill Clark / GETTY IMAGES

House conservatives recycle federal worker pay and benefit cuts in budget document

The Republican Study Committee’s fiscal 2025 budget plan would drastically cut federal workers’ retirement and health care benefits and end across-the-board annual pay hikes.

A group of more than 170 House Republicans announced last week that, if they had their druthers, the federal government would cease providing annual across-the-board pay increases to its employees and federal workers and retirees would have far less generous benefits.

The Republican Study Committee, led by Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., has touted its annual budget plan, this year entitled “Fiscal Sanity to Save America,” as a plan to balance the budget within seven years, cutting $17.1 trillion in spending over the next decade and reducing taxes by $4.2 trillion over that time period. The document has already caught the ire of the Biden administration, who decried the plan’s provisions cutting Social Security benefits and further restricting access to abortion services.

“Our budget is proof that it’s possible to balance the budget, it’s possible to operate in the black,” Hern said in a statement. “The federal debt is daunting, but it’s not hopeless. Conservative policies work together across the whole of government to lower spending, lower taxes, decrease the size and scope of the federal government and spur economic growth.”

Study committee leaders said the budget plan is composed of 285 existing bills in Congress, collectively sponsored by 192 Republican lawmakers. As such, the proposal often takes the form of a laundry list of conservative policy proposals new and old, many of which face long odds of becoming law.

The document argues that federal employees are overpaid compared to private sector workers to the tune of 17% when accounting for non-salary benefits. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, federal workers make 27.54% less on average than their private sector counterparts before considering non-salary benefits.

The plan would do away with the annual process by which the president proposes and implements annual across-the-board raises to federal workers in favor of only providing “merit-based” increases, a move the conservatives say would save $57 billion over the next decade. And it calls for the government to reduce the paid leave available to federal employees “to match the value of benefits” provided in the private sector. That vague provision would reduce federal spending by $75 billion over the next decade, the lawmakers said.

Also on the pay front are provisions creating new restrictions on the award of bonus payments to federal workers, both in terms of who qualifies and how much they would receive. And it calls on Congress to “reform” the General Schedule pay system to “reward high skilled, highly productive federal workers, and stop overpaying less qualified employees.”

The committee’s benefits proposals may sound familiar, because the vast majority were a part of then-President Trump’s budget plans each year he was in office, though none ever became law. Federal retirees’ annuity benefits would be calculated using the highest five years of an employee’s salary, rather than the current high three, increasing the amount federal workers must contribute from their paychecks toward the Federal Employee Retirement System, “reducing or eliminating” annual cost of living adjustments for federal pensioners, and reducing the yield on the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund to track a shorter-term Treasury bill. TSP officials have repeatedly said that last provision would make the G Fund functionally useless.

The lawmakers also called for an end of FERS for new federal employees, leaving them to rely only on the TSP and Social Security for retirement income, as well as ending the FERS supplement for federal workers who retire before age 62. That supplement exists primarily for federal law enforcement personnel, who are legally required to retire before they turn 58.

And they proposed eliminating federal retirees’ access to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and transitioning government support for the program from the current system where agencies contribute a percentage of employees’ health care premiums to a “premium support system” where the government only pays a flat sum toward insurance premiums.

The conservatives’ budget endorses legislation aimed at reducing the federal firing process to 30 days and stripping federal workers of some of their adverse action appeal rights. And in a signal of their continued opposition to labor unions, it would ban the use of official time at federal agencies, rescind President Biden’s federal workforce executive orders and end federal workers’ ability to pay their union dues via payroll deduction.

Jacque Simon, policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said that if implemented, the Republican Study Committee’s budget would cause “chaos” for agency hiring managers.

“If they succeeded in actually enacting this package, we’d have a very, very hard time getting any federal law enforcement officer on their job,” she said. “It’s really a recipe for emptying out the federal workforce, because even the worst employers in the private sector are better than this . . . I think in some ways, this is just a lot of nasty rhetoric. I don’t think even they would try to defend it as a sort of reasonable way to manage a workforce.”

And though threats to official time are nothing new to federal employee unions, Simon said the recent push to cease offering union dues through payroll deductions is a particularly ironic tactic, given how much conservative rhetoric around organized labor is couched in the language of employee “choice.”

“Nobody joins a [federal employee] union by force; it’s all voluntary membership in every case,” she said. “When we talk to federal workers thinking about joining, we give them two options: give us directly access to a credit card or checking account to charge them monthly electronically, or deduct it from their paycheck. They all choose the paycheck deduction. So they propose these kinds of things while talking about employee freedom and employee choice, but this is eliminating a choice.”

In a statement, National Treasury Employees Union National President Doreen Greenwald similarly pilloried the budget plan.

“Once again, the annual budget proposal released by the Republican Study Committee attacks the pay and benefits of our nation’s frontline federal workforce and NTEU objects to and opposes the language and intent behind the proposal,” she said. “Rather than recognize and support the federal workforce, the RSC would like to create ways to fire employees, reduce their pay, take away their union rights, limit access to affordable health insurance and remove new hires from the Federal Employees Retirement System. Federal employees are proud public servants who choose to serve our country and they deserve the respect and support of our elected leaders.”