Federal Times Blogs
Gosh, wasn’t the last month of planning for and arguing over the sequestration budget cuts a lot of fun? Guess what — we get to do it all over again!
The fiscal cliff deal Congress passed New Year’s Day doesn’t do away with sequestration — it just delays it two months. Federal Times would like to hear your thoughts about the prospect of a delayed sequestration. How does this throw off your plans? What does the uncertainty mean for your projects? Are you angry that this mess has just been kicked down the road once again? Are you worried that another pay freeze will get mixed into the next round of negotiations? What’s the buzz around your office?
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk. You can stay anonymous if you like.
Multiple news organizations are reporting that House Speaker John Boehner included the so-called chained Consumer Price Index in his latest proposal to President Obama seeking to avert the fiscal cliff.
This would put a big dent in the deficit — perhaps raising more than $290 billion over a decade — but it would hit federal and military retirees right in their pensions. Economists say the chained CPI is a more accurate method of determining inflation that is usually 0.25 to 0.30 percentage points lower than the current method. Adopting it for pensions, Social Security benefits and other indexed portions of the government’s budget would, over time, dramatically lower cost-of-living adjustments. The change would mean only a few hundred dollars at first for federal retirees. But its effect would compound over time, until eventually federal retirees would likely earn tens of thousands of dollars less than they would under the current system.
As Federal Times reported last week, several federal employee groups had been fearing momentum was building on Capitol Hill to adopt the chained CPI. They oppose such a change, and say federal employees have already contributed $103 billion to deficit reduction over the next decade.
It’s all over but the shoutin’ for the supercommittee. Negotiations broke down over the weekend with the parties hopelessly divided over taxes, dooming any chance at finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Members resorted to pointing fingers at one another on talk shows yesterday, and the only discussions still going on are how to break the bad news to the American people.
Reason magazine’s Peter Suderman put it perfectly in a tweet Saturday: “Super Committee is apparently one of those newfangled indie comic books where the heroes think they have powers but don’t.”
This will mean — theoretically, at least — that $1.2 trillion must be cut from the federal budget under a process known as “sequestration.” Federal Times would like to hear from you about what this will mean for you and your agency. Are you already making plans for sequestration? What discussions have been going on in your budget offices? Are you being told to scale back your hiring in anticipation of the steep budget cuts? E-mail us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to stay anonymous, that’s fine.
Even for a committee that nobody really expected would work, it’s an ignominious end. Perhaps when they finally throw in the towel, the supercommittee should play this sound:
FedLine: Treating Congress with the respect it deserves since 2008.
The supercommittee is shaping up to be Washington’s biggest flop since the 1961 Redskins. There’s five days left until Nov. 23, when its 12 members are supposed to come up with about $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, but still no signs of life. The supercommittee is going to work through the weekend, but each party’s leaders are now publicly doubting it will succeed — and are jockeying to blame the other side.
Federal Times would like to hear from our readers on what they’re doing to prepare for sequestration — the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts that would (theoretically) be mandated if the supercommittee fails. Budget specialists: How steep are the cuts you’re looking at, and where are you finding them? Human resources: Are you preparing for furloughs, more early outs and buyouts, or even RIFs? Are your contracting offices preparing to scale back contracts?
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association is done sending sternly-worded letters with bullet-pointed statistics to the supercommittee. It’s now turning to cartoons to push lawmakers to avoid vast, across-the-board budget cuts, whether through sequestration or other reductions to discretionary spending.
FLEOA today sent this cartoon to all members of Congress, and said it will follow up with the supercommittee and lawmakers who deal with law enforcement issues. The cartoon shows three obviously dismayed federal agents heading toward the unemployment office, while a terrorist, a corrupt CEO, a drug smuggler and a pedophile gleefully drive by in a stretch limo. Note the word “perv” written on the pedophile’s trucker hat.
“Words … can easily be ignored,” FLEOA spokeswoman Jenny Mattingley said in an e-mail. “FLEOA is just trying a different tactic since the Hill, especially the supercommittee, is getting inundated with letters from every group. We thought this might stand out a bit more.”
Mattingley said FLEOA has no plans to launch an ad campaign with the cartoon.
What do you think? Will a cartoon like this cut through the white noise and get lawmakers’ attention, or will it be ignored? And what do you think about the stereotypical villains used in the cartoon?
With the supercommittee rapidly entering “laugh so you don’t cry” territory, Jon Stewart last night summed things up pretty well. Enjoy. (It does get a little raunchy, so you may not want to watch it with the boss around.)
With barely a week to go until the so-called supercommittee’s deadline to strike a deal for about $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, things aren’t looking good. Negotiations are — once again — hung up on taxes, and Washington is rapidly losing hope they’ll come to some agreement by Nov. 23.
Many federal employees would likely breathe a sigh of relief if the supercommittee does fail, since it’s been urged to consider drastic cuts to their pensions, pay, staffing levels and other benefits. But any relief would be fleeting, since the collapse of the supercommittee would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts called sequestration, evenly divided — in theory — between defense and domestic spending. And that pain would likely hit feds in ways they haven’t yet imagined.
Those cuts, as Slate blogger Dave Weigel wrote today, “are supposed to be stupid. They’re so stupid that everyone will be forced to the table, lest they be responsible for taking a Sam Raimi chainsaw to the defense budget and Medicaid.” Indeed, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Nov. 14 wrote to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warning that it would mean vast layoffs and furloughs of Defense civilian employees, such as contracting and payroll personnel, right away.
Many leading Republicans say that would be unacceptable, and they have no intention of allowing such steep cuts to Defense. Some Republicans have hinted — or outright said — that they plan to undo any sequestration-imposed cuts to the Pentagon, which would shift the lion’s share of the cuts to domestic spending. And that’s almost certain to mean even worse layoffs and furloughs across the rest of the government.
President Obama is urging the supercommittee to “bite the bullet” and get a deal done — though on Sunday he wouldn’t commit to vetoing any bill that exempts Defense cuts. “The whole idea of the sequester was to make sure that both sides felt obligated to move off rigid positions and do what was required to help the country,” Obama said.
WaPo blogger Ezra Klein today went one step further and said that dismantling the sequestration trigger would “not just [be] failure. That’s sabotage” — reneging on the debt ceiling deal and completely ruining what little trust remains between Democrats and Republicans.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, today called for extending federal employees’ pay freeze — currently scheduled to last two years — into a third year.
In a letter to the so-called super committee tasked with reducing the deficit, Lieberman and Collins said “federal employees, including members of Congress and our staffs, must sacrifice as part of an urgent need to curtail the cost of the federal government and reduce the national debt.”
As a strong supporter of our federal workforce, we say this with regret, because we are asking many dedicated, hard-working and patriotic public servants to pay a price for fiscal and economic conditions for which they are not responsible. But people across the country are struggling, most especially those who are suffering from historic levels of unemployment, and all Americans, including those of us in the public sector, must help get our country out of the hole we are in.
A third year in which pay scales are frozen would save $32 billion, they said. They did not propose halting step increases, but they did say the freeze should be extended to legislative branch employees.
They also endorsed President Obama’s plan to phase in a 1.2 percent increase to the amount federal employees contribute to their pension plans. But they said the proposal should also cover legislative and judicial branch employees, not just executive branch employees. And they said the super committee should consider repealing a 2009 change allowing Federal Employees Retirement System employees to count their unused sick leave towards their retirement, which will cost an estimated $561 million over 10 years.
Collins and Lieberman said moving to a high-5 system for calculating pensions makes sense, but it should be structured to limit the effect on feds who are already near retirement. If that isn’t done, it could result in a wave of early retirements as feds try to get out before the high-5 takes effect.
From the fed perspective, however, their approach looks positively mild in comparison with the package of recommendations offered–also today–by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Among them: Go to the five-5; extend the pay freeze through 2015 and eliminate step increases; increase employee contribution rates both for participants in the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System; eliminate FERS for new hires and limit the FERS minimum supplement to employees subject to mandatory retirement. Oh yes, and reduce the federal work force by 10 percent by hiring only one new worker for every three who leave.
Total 10-year savings would be a minimum of $375 billion, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a letter.
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.
President Obama’s proposal to hike the amount federal employees pay into their pensions by 1.2 percent struck a nerve. In the latest reaction, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley today sent a letter to the super committee on deficit reduction calling those changes “ill-advised and inequitable,” and said they would lead to “an exodus of our most highly-trained and experienced workers.”
What do you think about the proposals? Sound off below, or e-mail me at email@example.com. We’d like to hear your thoughts on this potential major change to federal employees’ benefits.