TPM just scored a nice scoop today with a look at Republicans’ wish list for the deficit reduction super committee. What’s likely to be most alarming to federal employees is Rep. Darrell Issa’s idea to temporarily freeze step increases for federal employees:
[O]ne idea identifies “Chairman Issa” as the source . . . . Issa’s idea would eliminate “periodic step increases” for federal employees’ salaries and is estimated to save $1 billion.
“Federal employees receive periodic step increases driven largely by passage of time equivalent to three percent of basic pay,” the doc states.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is a vocal critic of the federal pay system, and earlier this year tried to freeze step increases to broaden the White House’s partial pay freeze.
TPM said another proposal, attributed to the House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders, would increase current employees’ contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System by half a percentage point. (TPM doesn’t say how many times the contribution would be hiked, but all previous discussions about contribution hikes have revolved around increases for three years.) This would be 0.1 percentage points more than the White House proposed earlier this week.
And the GOP leadership is also reportedly looking at upping new employees’ contributions to 4 percent of pay, instead of the current FERS contribution rate of 0.8 percent.
TPM also lists other ideas, which have each been floated at one time or another over the last year:
- Eliminating pensions for all new employees, saving $4.9 billion.
- Cutting the federal work force.
- Eliminating cost-of-living increases for federal workers. This would essentially extend the partial two-year pay freeze, which holds pay scales where they were in 2010, but does not touch step increases.
The White House is supposed to release its plan for rescuing the U.S. Postal Service this morning, but–perhaps not so coincidentally–Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., isn’t waiting.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, today announced a subcommittee mark-up Wednesday afternoon on his bill that would allow the Postal Service to end Saturday delivery, but would also put the mail carrier under the control of a specially appointed commission if it misses any payment to the federal government—such as the legally required $5.5 billion retiree health care prepayment due at the end of this month. That commission could override Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and also breach union contracts in the interest of putting the agency back in the black.
Not surprisingly, Issa’s bill has gotten a lukewarm reception from the Postal Service and is fiercely opposed by postal unions. Nonetheless, Wednesday’s session will mark the first attempt this year to advance any major postal legislation beyond the talking stage.
What happens at the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily stay at the Postal Service.
The latest example: A federal workers’ compensation fund could run out of money within three months if the cash-strapped mail carrier skips a $1.2 billion payment due in mid-October, according to the Labor Department.
The department runs the fund under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. Should the Postal Service miss the October “chargeback” for past claims, officials estimate that the program would have no money to pay any benefits during the last four months of fiscal 2012, running from next June through September, according to a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
BUT, the fund could have to halt benefits by late this November if the Postal Service misses its required payment and—as is considered extremely possible—the government begins fiscal 2012 under a continuing resolution. The reason is that Congress generally doesn’t appropriate enough money under a short-term CR to cover the cost of annual lump sum benefits, Brian Kennedy, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, said in the letter. On top of that, the workers’ comp fund wouldn’t have enough money to pay the vendor that processes medical claims under the compensation act, Kennedy wrote. His letter, dated Aug. 1, was first reported by Reuters news service.
So, will the Postal Service, which describes itself as effectively bankrupt, be able to ante up? At this point, the answer is yes, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said today in an email. But in its third-quarter report released earlier this month, the Postal Service suggested it could have “insufficient cash” to meet all of its federal obligations this fall, including the workers’ comp component.
The moral? To rewrite a famous line from English poet John Donne, no agency is an island. And for thousands of federal workers’ comp beneficiaries out there . . . keep your fingers crossed.
Postal unions and Rep. Darrell Issa are mixing it up again.
This time it’s over the California Republican’s bid to scrap a long-standing congressional requirement for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail six days a week. That requirement is the main obstacle to the Postal Service’s ending most Saturday delivery, a step the agency says will save $3 billion per year.
In a letter last month, Issa asked Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., to drop the six-day language from an appropriations bill that her financial services subcommittee was drafting. Emerson didn’t go along, but Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, followed up this week with a separate letter to House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., essentially asking for the chance to challenge the provision during debate by the full House.
But in a note on its web site, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association says that five-day delivery would cost at least 80,000 jobs and urges members “to call, not email” a long list of lawmakers who could decide the issue.
In a letter released today, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., takes aim at a union’s claim that the U.S. Postal Service gets no taxpayer support.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, concedes that the Postal Service no longer receives a direct government operating subsidy, but cites a 2007 report that the agency benefits from many “implicit subsidies” and “extra powers” worth several hundred millions of dollars a year. Those include federal, state and local income tax exemptions, Issa wrote, as well as the ability to borrow from the federal treasury at low interest rates.
The letter, dated Monday, is addressed to American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey. That was the same day the APWU began airing an ad on national TV cable channels asserting that its members’ work is “funded by solely by stamps and postage.”
As anyone following USPS issues knows, Issa and Guffey haven’t exactly been best buds of late, given that they have starkly different ideas about what’s needed to cure the Postal Service’s ills. Issa acknowledges those differences in his letter, but adds that “we must be clear about the underlying facts.
“I ask you not to engage in a campaign to mislead the American people.”
In an email, APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow said the ad is accurate and “is intended to dispel the myth that the Postal Service is funded by tax dollars.”
The Federal Trade Commission report cited by Issa lists not only implicit subsidies for the Postal Service, but also added burdens, Davidow said, and concludes that the burdens exceed the subsidies. The union plans to formally respond to Issa in writing.
Even before he was officially in a position to do much about it, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was adamant that the U.S. Postal Service needed to cut costs faster and deeper. After Issa became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this January, the looming question was just how he would push that agenda.
The answer: Treat America’s biggest mail carrier like the District of Columbia.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Republican-controlled Congress set up a “board of control” that essentially stripped the district of home rule with the goal of putting its problematic finances in order. Now, Issa wants to do something similar for the Postal Service, with the creation of a panel that could override the postmaster general, void union contracts, and basically prod the mail carrier to do whatever it takes to return to solvency, according to a newly introduced 132-page bill.
Here’s how it would work: If the Postal Service defaults on any obligations to the federal government (and an oversight committee spokesman confirmed that this would include the billions of dollars in prepayments into the USPS retiree health care fund due each September), it would quickly slide into what the bill delicately labels as a “control period.”
The President would then name a five-member commission (officially known as the Postal Service Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority) that would assume overall management responsibility. Among other powers, the authority would approve the Postal Service’s budget and hire and fire top managers. Its tour of duty would end only when the Postal Service made it through two consecutive fiscal years in the black.
The bill would also give the Postal Service a green light to go to five-day-a-week delivery. But from the perspective of current USPS management, which desperately wants such authority, that appears to to be its only major positive. In a news release, agency leaders expressed disappointment that the legislation wouldn’t eliminate the prepayment requirement and that it “would create more government bureaucracy and slow our progress on streamlining our operations.”
The agency adds that it’s not really interested in another $10 billion in Treasury borrowing authority that the legislation would provide. While the expanded line of credit would be available only during the control period subject to the authority’s approval, “the Postal Service does not need to incur additional debt–we need the money back that is already owed to us,” the release says in an allusion to overpayments into its pension program identified by the USPS inspector general and an outside actuarial firm.
In case anyone’s forgotten, incidentally, the Postal Service stopped paying employer contributions into the Federal Employees Retirement System last Friday as a way of holding on to more of its fast evaporating cash.
No hearing or markup on Issa’s legislation has been scheduled at this point.
Well, this could get interesting. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is contemplating major changes to the Hatch Act, the law that generally bars federal employees from on-the-job partisan politicking.
At a hearing this afternoon, Issa didn’t say what kind of alterations he believes are needed, but labeled the status quo “clear as mud.” In a brief interview afterward, he drew distinctions in how the law affects the president and vice president; Cabinet officers and political appointees; and the career federal workforce. All three layers, Issa said, could need “multiple rounds” of legislation drafting. Today’s hearing may be the first in a series.
If career feds are well aware of the Hatch Act—and the fact that they can be fired for violating it—the 1939 statute usually get more media attention when questions arise over presidential activities. Recently, the Obama administration has come under fire for hosting a meeting of Wall Street executives at the White House. While the administration says that the March gathering—first reported by The New York Times—was to discuss policy matters, invitations came from the Democratic National Committee.
And several lawmakers at today’s hearing complained that federal workers can innocently stumble over the law’s restrictions. Among them was the oversight committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “Increased training is always helpful to help prevent these problems,” Cummings said, “but it also may be helpful to revisit some of these issues legislatively.”
Whether the event is a dinner party or a rock concert, everyone knows that seating arrangements can be a touchy subject.
But at a congressional witness table?
That, though, was a not insignificant issue at a House oversight subcommittee hearing Friday. The session, dedicated to open government efforts, featured two panels. The first was made up of transparency advocates and federal departmental officials; the second featured just one person, Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel.
The reason–as an agency spokeswoman later confirmed–is that OMB will not allow its staff to testify alongside people from outside the government. While OMB claims that it is following long-standing policy, “it is not that long a policy,” said committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. If Issa seemed bemused, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., appeared downright peeved by what he described as a disconnect with the Obama administration’s accountable government rhetoric.
“I’m trying to understand why we talk one way and act an entirely different way,” Kelly said after Werfel took his seat to testify.
Werfel, it should be noted, ranks among the more accessible members of OMB’s senior staff. “The bottom line is I’m here and willing to answer any questions you have,” he told Kelly, while deflecting questions on the broader policy.
In a later email, the OMB spokeswoman, Moira Mack, said that policy has spanned both Republican and Democratic administrations and stems from OMB’s role in the Executive Office of the President. She did not elaborate.
Well, chalk one up for congressional bipartisanship: Democrats and Republicans alike agree that lawmakers should have a say in the Obama administration’s government streamlining agenda.
“Reorganization of the executive branch is a shared responsibility,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., the respective chairs of the main House and Senate government oversight committees, said in a Friday letter to Jeffrey Zients, one of the White House management officials leading the effort.
Issa and Lieberman go on to ask for “a tentative timeline for development and implementation of the reorganization proposal, as well as regular updates during the review.” The two also recommend that they be included early on, the better to “contribute collaboratively” to the proposal’s development. Also signing the letter were the two committees’ ranking members, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
More than a month has passed since Obama announced plans to remodel the government in the interests of American economic competitiveness. While the White House has thus far revealed little else about the project, more information will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks, Zients said a few days ago.
Although Lisa Brown, the reorganization’s co-director, had been scheduled to speak tomorrow at a National Academy of Public Administration forum, she will not be appearing because of a scheduling conflict, Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Moira Mack said via email this afternoon.
Asked for comment on the letter, Mack said that Zients and Brown are starting to seek advice and suggestions from Congress, program administrators and relevant stakeholder groups.
FWIW, it may make sense for the White House to give the Hill a stake in the reorganization, given that Obama plans to ask Congress to approve the final product. But it’s also worth remembering—as former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., noted at a hearing last week– that lawmakers can be a hindrance as much as a help.
“Duplicate and overlapping programs frequently exist because of the way we in Congress legislate,” Davis told Issa’s committee. Jurisdiction, he added, “trumps all.”
[Updated Monday at 12:25 p.m. to reflect OMB comment and at 1:45 to note that Brown will not be appearing at National Academy of Public Administration forum.]
The House late last night defeated an amendment from Rep. Darrell Issa that would have canceled step increases for hundreds of thousands of General Schedule employees for the rest of the fiscal year.
The 191-230 vote came shortly before 2 a.m., and only one Democrat voted for it. Rep. Todd Rokita’s amendments, which would have canceled other federal raises and forbid federal employees from engaging in union activities while on the job, didn’t come up for a vote.
The House passed the spending bill, which slashes agency budgets and aims to cut more than $60 billion from the deficit, at 4:35 a.m. on a largely party-line vote.