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Federal Times brings you budget coverage all day today

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Make sure you keep checking FederalTimes.com through the day for up-to-the-minute coverage of the White House’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal. The budget will go online at 11:15 a.m. today, and the Federal Times crew will immediately start diving into the numbers to find out who are the winners and who are the losers. (Although given the way things have been going lately, we expect a lot more losers than winners this year.)

We already know that President Obama is going to propose switching to the chained CPI, and cutting federal retirement benefits by $35 billion. Check our story from last Friday for more on what that means for you.

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Ryan budget would kill FERS supplement, tuition assistance

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The House Budget Committee’s report on Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal 2014 budget fills in a few more details on how it would affect federal employees. The budget, which the House passed March 21, would get rid of the Federal Employees Retirement System supplemental payment beginning in January 2014. That supplement is paid to FERS employees who retire before age 62, to replace the Social Security payment for which they are not yet eligible.

The bill also would eliminate student loan repayments for federal employees. And its 10 percent federal workforce cut would be achieved by allowing agencies to only hire one new employee for every three who leave.

Ryan’s budget also takes a page from the Simpson-Bowles commission and increases the amount federal employees contribute to their pensions. The House Budget Committee said the retirement benefit cuts could save $132 billion over a decade.

The Ryan budget is sure to run aground in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But some of these proposals could be resurrected later this year, as part of budget negotiations.

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Technology could cut federal deficit by billions, report says

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As Congress and the administration grapple with how best to cut the federal deficit, a group of industry and government leaders are suggesting that information technology be used to reduce that number by billions of dollars.

The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Institute for Innovation on Tuesday released recommendations for the Obama administration to cut the deficit by $220 billion annually through increased use of data analytics and industry best practices. ACT-IAC  is public-private partnership focused on helping government use technology to serve the public.

More than 100 volunteers from government and industry provided input for ACT-IAC’s first Quadrennial Government Technology Review, a series of reports detailing how IT can be used to solve the nation’s most challenging issues such as rising healthcare costs, citizen services and a lack of qualified workers for science and technology-related jobs.

Here’s a very high-level explanation from ACT-IAC on how it arrived at $220 billion in annual savings:  

- $70 billion by using big data analytics creatively in the federal healthcare space, based on numbers from the McKinsey Global Institute. McKinsey estimates that the nation’s healthcare sector could save $300 billion anually through big data, and $70 billion is the federal sector.

- $50 billion by using enhanced IT tools to better share, access and analyze data to reduce improper payments and uncollected taxes. In the report, ACT-IAC backs this claim using IRS reports that the amount of uncollected taxes is $385 billion and improper payments made by the federal government total more than $100 billion a year. The group suggests that IT tools could reduce the overall number by 10 percent.

- $100 billion by investing in technology to increase productivity and reduce costs, based on industry best practices. These savings are a fraction of the total $970 billion that government could save over 10 years by adopting industry best practices identified in the report.

Streamline Government Supply Chain $500B
Monetize Government Assets $150B
Consolidate Infrastructure $200B
Reduce Field Operations/Self Serve $50B
Shared Mission Support $50B
Reduce Energy Usage $20B

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Budget to be released Feb. 13

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The Office of Management and Budget just confirmed to Federal Times that the fiscal 2013 budget will be released Feb. 13.

An administration official said Feb. 13 was chosen “based on the need to finalize decisions and technical details of the document.”

The budget usually comes out the first Monday in February, which would be Feb. 6. Until today, reporters had been hearing rumors that the White House would stick to that traditional schedule.

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NARFE: Don’t make feds the ‘whipping boy’ in deficit debate

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Margaret Baptiste, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, just put out a statement urging senators to oppose a spending bill amendment that would freeze federal salaries. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., want to cover the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan war spending by eliminating expenses such as federal civilian raises and bonuses. Their proposal — as well as a House bill also targeting the 2011 raise — would not affect military service members. Baptiste said:

We believe it is wrong to single out federal workers for cuts that others serving our country are not being asked to make. More specifically, why would the Congress take a punitive action against the thousands of federal civilian employees who are working alongside their uniformed colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan by requiring them to forgo a small salary increase to partially pay for the wars they are helping to win?

It’s also a mistake, Baptiste said, to think of the civil service as a cost burdening the nation instead of a resource to invest in:

Civil service pay and benefits have been a perennial target of budgeteers and “bureaucrats” have long been an easy “whipping boy” for voters. If we are to make wise choices about putting our fiscal house in order, members of Congress and the public need to be educated about the invaluable contributions made to our country by Americans who devote their careers to the public service.

The drive to strike the 2011 pay raise seems to be picking up steam. HR 5382, a bill sponsored by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that would cancel the proposed 1.4 percent raise, is likely to come up for a vote tomorrow. A vote on the McCain and Coburn amendment hasn’t been scheduled yet, but also could come soon.

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McCain, Coburn: Freeze feds’ salaries to pay for wars

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz, and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., today filed amendments to the Iraq and Afghanistan war supplemental spending bills that seek to offset its costs by cutting spending elsewhere — and feds aren’t going to like what they’ve got in mind.

McCain and Coburn want to save about $2.6 billion by freezing federal employees’ raises, bonuses and other salary increases for one year. This comes on the heels of their House counterparts’ move to put federal raises on the chopping block as part of their YouCut program.

They also seek to eliminate non-essential government travel ($10 billion over 10 years), collect unpaid taxes from federal employees ($3 billion), dispose of unneeded government property ($15 billion), reduce government printing and publishing costs ($4.4 billion over 10 years), eliminate bonuses for poor-performing government contractors ($8 billion over 10 years), and auction off unused and unneeded government equipment ($250 million over 10 years).

All in all, McCain and Coburn say the proposed cuts would cover $120 billion in war spending costs, although it’s worth noting that $33 billion of those savings would come over 10 years. But is the tax thing really fertile ground for finding new money? The IRS already levies feds’ salaries to recover those funds under the Federal Payment Levy Program, and apparently there’s a good bit of turnover on the list, which suggests tax-delinquent feds do eventually pay off their debts.

So feds, what do you think? Sound off below, or shoot me an e-mail at slosey@federaltimes.com.

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GOP’s YouCut targets federal pay raises

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The House GOP’s YouCut program this week seeks to put next year’s proposed 1.4 percent civilian raise on the chopping block. And so far, it’s the top choice to be cut — House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said today that 40 percent of the nearly 218,000 votes cast so far this week were in favor of eliminating the 2011 raise. (People must really want to keep those mohair subsidies.)

YouCut combines the democratic ideals of American Idol with the excitement of a Heritage Foundation seminar. Each week, Republicans propose five programs to be cut, and then let people vote online or via text message on which one they want to slash. The GOP then tries to force a vote on the cuts on the House floor, but lawmakers last week voted 240 to 177 to keep the first YouCut “winner,” the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program’s $2.5 billion emergency fund.

Cantor said the proposal to cut the 2011 raise could be brought to the House floor this week. Eliminating pay raises would save $2 billion next year and, if it is continued, $30 billion over the next decade, he said. ”This vote won’t be easy for everyone, but it is exactly the kind of choice we must begin to make to get us off the path towards financial ruin,” he said.

The proposal would not affect the military’s pay raise. The Obama adminstration wants to give service members a 1.4 percent raise, but some lawmakers want to bump it up to 1.9 percent.

This is sure to increase the political temperature surrounding federal raises, and may make it difficult for lawmakers to support pay parity, at the very least. What do you think about YouCut taking aim at federal salaries?

Video of Cantor after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Gates on Pentagon budget: “The gusher has been turned off”

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a tough message earlier today for his department’s bureaucracy (not to mention its contractors): The spending spree is over. Read an account of his Kansas speech and some of his planned changes at our sister publication, Military Times, here. And the Washington Post’s article has this interesting detail on contracting:

Among Gates’s apparent targets for major cuts are the private contractors the Pentagon has hired in large numbers over the past decade to take on administrative tasks that the military used to handle. The defense secretary estimated that this portion of the Pentagon budget has grown by as much as $23 billion, a figure that does not include the tens of billions of dollars spent on private firms supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The defense contractors, who populate new office towers throughout Washington’s suburbs and have been a major driver of the local economy, are a significant source of budgetary bloat, Gates said. “We ended up with contractors supervising other contractors — with predictable results,” he said in the speech Saturday.

The WaPo said Gates is prepared to stay on past this year to make sure his changes stick. Since defense spending is often viewed as sacrosanct in American politics, this could be the first shot fired in a major budgetary war.

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Budget guru says to expect more CRs

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Agency budgets will stay flat for the next few years as the government faces an $11 trillion deficit, presenting fewer opportunities for vendors to do business with agencies.

Vendors can separate themselves from the competition by identifying how they can save agencies money, said budget expert Stan Collender at INPUT’s Federal Market View 2010 conference today in Falls Church, Va. Vendors and contractors who know how to sell themselves to agencies can carve out a piece of the narrowing contracting pie, he sad.

You should expect extreme scrutiny on the programs you care about. There’s almost no way around it – there will be cuts and where there are increases, they will not be as big as in the past.”

Collender, managing director for Qorvis Communications, also said vendors should expect yet another continuing resolution for fiscal 2011. With politicians facing press to cut spending while avoiding impacting popular programs, it’s safer for members of Congress to vote on omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions instead of individual appropriations bills.

We may be very much in the era when individual appropriations are not enacted. I don’t mean not enacted in time, I mean not enacted. Period.”

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Budget update: Civilian combat pay provisions still to come

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Federal Times reported last week that the 2011 budget would propose a standardized slate of pay and benefits for federal civilians deployed to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s apparently still coming, but it’s not here yet — the budget documents OMB released Monday contain no incentive package proposals.

The Pentagon just sent this statement to Federal Times after we inquired about the missing proposals: “We are still working on the standardized combat pay provisions package for submission into the fiscal year 2011 budget.”

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