The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan today ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, the Associated Press said, becoming the second federal appeals court to do so this year.
DOMA requires the federal government to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and as a result blocks federal spousal benefits — such as health and retirement benefits — from going to the legally-married same-sex spouses of federal employees. The case in today’s ruling — Windsor v. United States — is not related to federal employee benefits.
But other cases challenging DOMA have centered around federal benefits. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in May also declared DOMA unconstitutional when it said Dean Hara, the legally-married husband of late Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., had been improperly denied health coverage from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
And in February, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco handed lesbian federal employee Karen Golinski a major victory when he also declared DOMA unconstitutional, and ordered the Office of Personnel Management to extend FEHBP coverage to Golinski’s wife, Amy Cunninghis. OPM did so in May, but stressed that it was a legally-mandated one-person exemption that would apply only to Cunninghis and no other same-sex spouses. OPM Director John Berry, who is gay, has repeatedly said he supports extending health care coverage to gay feds’ spouses and partners, but said he is handcuffed by DOMA.
Despite the growing legal consensus against DOMA, it isn’t dead yet. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to start considering one of several cases challenging DOMA soon — perhaps this year, if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is correct.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney yesterday said the path to saving a half-trillion each year lies with slashing federal jobs and pay, merging agencies, and cracking down on improper payments.
Romney’s proposals largely reiterated planks in the platform the GOP adopted last month, and other proposals Romney and other Republicans have made in recent years. Romney, speaking to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, said he wants to save $500 billion a year by:
- Cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition;
- Combining agencies and departments to reduce overhead;
- Stopping roughly $115 billion in improper payments made annually by government programs;
- And bringing government compensation in line with the private sector.
The issue of government compensation and whether feds are overcompensated when compared to private sector workers is a tricky one, and largely depends on which study you look at. The government’s own studies find federal employees are greatly underpaid, but other studies (including one by the Congressional Budget Office) have found that feds receive more, especially when benefits are factored in.
Federal employees have heard countless accusations that they’re overpaid in recent years. Now a new study from the conservative Heritage Foundation suggests they may be lazier than private sector workers.
Heritage on Tuesday released a report that concluded federal employees work, on average, nearly three fewer hours each week than workers in the private sector. By the end of the year, Heritage said, most feds put in about a month less on the job than private workers when vacation and other paid leave is taken into account.
Heritage studied the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, which queries workers about their activities, including work time, in a 24-hour period. It concluded that average private-sector workers typically worked 41.4 hours per week, while feds worked 38.7 hours. State and local workers put in 38.1 hours on average, Heritage said.
This “should be of concern to taxpayers who expect private-sector levels of work in the public sector in exchange for private-sector levels of compensation,” Heritage said.
And Heritage suggested reducing federal employees’ paid leave to narrow the gap between allegedly overcompensated and underworked feds and private workers.
“With several recent studies” — including one published by Heritage two years ago — “suggesting an overall compensation premium for public employees, reducing aspects of that premium — such as paid leave — could be part of a larger strategy to shrink the pay gap and save taxpayer money.”
Federal employee organizations fired back at the report.
National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association Legislative Director Julie Tagen said Heritage’s reports are “historically biased against federal workers and retirees, and this one is no exception by only surveying 1,776 federal employees, or 0.07 percent of the entire federal employee population.”
On the other hand, Heritage used data on 8,053 state and local workers, and 39,042 private sector workers.
“It’s unlikely the researchers reviewed the timesheets of the federal team that landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars, prepared the United States for Hurricane Irene, and are currently responding to the crises in Syria and Egypt,” Tagen said. “As America’s federal employees devote their lives to our country, it is insulting to belittle their contributions with reports that disparage their work ethic.”
American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox called the report “utterly misleading” and “yet another opportunity to manipulate data in order to pit the public against government workers”:
The differences Heritage cites evaporate if one adjusts for firm size and length of service — the two most important factors determining hours of work and paid time off. … The reality is that many private, non-union employers provide absolutely no paid time off. No sick leave, no vacation, no holidays. That is the disgrace, not the fact that public sector employers recognize that all workers need some paid time off in order to maintain a work-life balance.
The Heritage Foundation’s attempts to mislead the public and denigrate the work of public employees is all part of their campaign to dismantle vital government services.
Heritage did note that it did not control for overtime pay in its report, which is often more available to private-sector workers than public workers. But Heritage said doing so would not be relevant, or account for the gap between public and private workers.
Tags: Heritage Foundation
President Obama’s decision to extend the pay freeze — at least until Congress passes a 2013 budget — has been condemned by labor leaders. Federal Times would like to find out what you think about the prospect of an even longer pay freeze. How will it affect you? Will it make you more likely to retire? What do you think is driving Obama’s decision?
Write me at email@example.com if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, that’s fine.
There’s been a slew of reports issued over the last three years comparing federal employees’ pay and benefits to private sector workers, and they’ve all come to some radically differing conclusions. Which one is right?
Everyone, and no one, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office posted online Monday.
GAO spent the last year digging into six reports on federal pay, and concluded that they “varied because they used different approaches, methods and data.” For example:
- The Congressional Budget Office, American Enterprise Institute, and Heritage Foundation all used a so-called “human capital approach” to compare federal and private data. This means they took into account personal attributes (such as education and job experience), demographic attributes (like race and gender), and other factors such as occupation, locality, and firm size. All three of these studies found feds were paid anywhere from 2 percent to 22 percent higher than private sector employees.
- The President’s Pay Agent and the Project on Government Oversight used a “job-to-job” approach that, like the human capital approach, takes occupation and job level into account. They did not factor in personal attributes. The Pay Agent concluded feds are paid 24 percent lower than nonfederal workers (including state and local employees) and POGO found feds are paid 20 percent higher.
- The Cato Institute conducted a “trend analysis” that did not control for any attributes and looked only at broader pay trends over time. Cato found feds’ pay is 58 percent higher than private sector employees pay.
Unsurprisingly, the authors of each study told GAO that their method was the most accurate way to compare pay. For example, the researchers who used the human capital approach said their method can best measure whether the government is overpaying or underpaying its employees, compared to what they would earn if they quit their federal jobs and looked for work in the private sector. But even the human capital researchers conceded that their method shouldn’t be used to set an individual’s rate of pay, since demographic attributes such as race and gender aren’t work related. (Just imagine the lawsuits if the government started paying certain employees less because other members of their race also earned less.)
GAO did not say that any of the studies were incorrect or faulty. But it did conclude that because they are so different, “comparing their results to help inform pay decisions is potentially problematic.” GAO also said that “given the different approaches of the selected studies, their findings should not be taken in isolation as the answer to how federal pay and total compensation compares to other sectors.”
Long story short, GAO’s conclusions don’t leave us any closer to settling the nagging pay gap question.
GAO also reiterated the Pay Agent’s “serious concerns” about the current method for setting pay under the General Schedule, which requires a single, across-the-board adjustment for all employees in each locality. This means that everybody — accountants, clerks, engineers, etc. — gets the same raise, even if the market for clerks grew softer that year while engineers became harder to find. The Pay Agent has called for the government to re-examine the method it uses to determine the federal-private pay gap.
And it notes that while President Obama called on Congress last September to create a commission to reform federal compensation and other personnel matters, “such a commission has not yet been established.”
The Denver Post today reported that the White House has decided to allow seasonal federal firefighters to purchase the same health insurance as other federal employees, almost a month after one firefighter’s online petition for benefits went viral.
Most federal employees get health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. But more than 8,000 seasonal federal firefighters aren’t eligible for FEHBP because they usually work less than six months each year. U.S. Forest Service firefighter John Lauer started an online petition in late May after his friend and fellow firefighter’s son was born prematurely. Because Lauer’s friend had no health insurance, he had to spend $70,000 on his son’s treatments.
The National Federation of Federal Employees heard about Lauer’s petition and began promoting it in mid-June. It soon gathered more than 100,000 signatures and NFFE began talking to the Office of Personnel Management about the problem.
And according to the Denver Post:
On a a recent trip to Colorado Springs, the president was apparently moved by the men and women firefighters he met, senior administration officials said in an interview Tuesday. When he returned to Washington, he told his cabinet that he wanted to “find a solution” for the hundreds of workers toiling in dangerous conditions without the option to buy in to federal insurance.
Administration officials told the Post that OPM will extend the health benefits to firefighters by the end of July.
NFFE just issued a statement lauding the decision.
“No longer do our firefighters have to fear incurring thousands in medical bills if they are injured outside of the job, or if their child gets sick,” NFFE National President William Dougan said. “These brave individuals put their lives on the line every year to protect our homes and communities. I could not be more proud that this new policy returns the favor by giving them the protection they need.”
Congress just passed a new phased retirement option that would allow federal employees to work part-time at the end of their career, while also earning a partial pension. This has the potential to significantly change how feds and their agencies plan for retirements.
If you’re a fed nearing retirement age, and are interested in the phased retirement option, we’d like to talk to you. How would a semi-retirement help you and your agency? Is there a dream project you’d like to wrap up before retiring once and for all? Are you busy mentoring younger employees? Are you just not ready to hang it up, but would like a little more spare time?
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk.
The Thrift Savings Plan’s new Roth option opened up to civilian Defense Department employees today, the Air Force said.
Defense civilians can now elect to contribute all or parts of their TSP savings to the Roth option on an after-tax basis. The Air Force said that elections made on or before June 30 will be effective July 1, and will be reflected on employees’ July 20 leave and earnings statement.
Under the Roth option, participants pay taxes when they make contributions into the TSP. Those contributions then grow over time, and are not taxed when they are withdrawn years later. This differs from the standard TSP plan, in which participants make their contributions tax-free and pay their taxes when the money is withdrawn. The plan is expected to primarily benefit military service members — who usually have lower tax rates during their service years — and select groups of civilian federal employees, such as judges. Most civilians would not benefit from the Roth option.
Agency automatic and matching contributions will be deposited as regular TSP contributions, which are tax-deferred.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s effort to roll out the Roth option has been complicated by the multiple, balkanized pay and personnel systems its customer agencies use. Marine Corps service members got the Roth option in June, and all other uniformed service members are expected to get it in October.
An online petition to extend federal health care benefits to seasonal wildland firefighters is spreading like … well … wildfire.
John Lauer, a temporary firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, and thousands of his colleagues aren’t eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan because they only work for the government six months out of each year. But those six months are extremely busy — Lauer and other firefighters usually work 16-hour shifts each day — and dangerous.
And when medical misfortune strikes a firefighter’s family, it can be devastating. Lauer said his godson Rudy — the son of a friend and fellow firefighter — was born prematurely. Because Lauer’s friend didn’t have FEHBP health insurance, Rudy’s treatments cost $70,000.
Lauer had enough. He started an online petition on change.org in late May, hoping to get 100,000 signatures and send it to President Obama. The National Federation of Federal Employees, of which Lauer is a member, said it gathered about 700 signatures over the next couple of weeks. On June 13, NFFE heard about the petition and began pushing it to its Forest Service bargaining unit employees.
Interest in the petition exploded. By Friday morning, it crossed the 10,000-signature mark. At the time of this blog’s publication, it had nearly 45,000 signatures.
“I couldn’t stand by quietly anymore and watch my godson’s parents suffer without health insurance,” Lauer said in a NFFE news release. “Stories like this are a dime a dozen for seasonal firefighters. These are some of the bravest, most dedicated people I have ever met. They deserve insurance.”
NFFE said Lauer is currently fighting a fire in Colorado and was unavailable for comment. NFFE said the Forest Service hires between 5,000 and 10,000 seasonal wildland firefighters each year.
Did you get a letter this week informing you that your Social Security number and other personal information was stolen in last July’s hacking of a Thrift Savings Plan data center? If so, Federal Times would like to speak to you.
E-mail me at email@example.com if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to speak anonymously, that’s fine.