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The federal government–relevant, after all?

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Hurricane Sandy is nowhere near done pummeling the D.C. area tonight, but FedLine can’t help noticing how the storm has already showered attention on the federal government’s role in anticipating and responding to disasters.

Last Friday, for example, The New York Times ran a front-page article on how delays in development of the next generation of weather satellites could jeopardize future forecasting. That risk would not have come as news to Federal Times readers, but the mainstream media had previously paid little attention to the issue.

Since then, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has had to fend off questions over whether he wants to cut funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And at least one network newscast this evening carried a feature story on the Coast Guard’s rescue earlier in the day of 14 crew members from a replica of the H.M.S. Bounty that foundered off the coast of North Carolina.

This is not to say that Washington does everything well (as the Times story points out, mismanagement has been one factor in throwing the weather satellite program off track), or that it’s unreasonable to ask whether some missions can be carried out differently or more efficiently. But whether you think the federal government’s size is too big, too small or just right, there is no denying that we currently expect it to play a very large role in situations like this. And if it doesn’t take that responsibility, it is reasonable to ask: Who will?

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Romney: Save $500B by cutting federal jobs, pay, combining agencies

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

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.

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AFGE’s Gage fires back at Romney

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comment about “unfair” federal pay and benefits has raised the hackles of the two largest federal unions. The National Treasury Employees Union slammed Romney yesterday for going after middle-class federal workers. And today, American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage let loose with an even more cutting response:

You know what’s really unfair? The specter of having a new boss who thinks so little about the work that you do that he can’t bother getting his facts straight before making the ridiculous and patently false claim that federal workers are “getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve.”

Gage flat-out rejected Romney’s allegation that feds receive drastically higher pay and benefits than private-sector employees, and cited “decades of research by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics” that shows feds consistently earn much smaller salaries.

What Gage said is true, but may not tell the whole story. The Federal Salary Council, using BLS data, last reported in November that federal pay fell even further behind private-sector pay last year, and concluded that feds now earn 26.3 percent less than their private-sector counterparts. But some federal pay experts have their doubts about the council’s methodology. (Even Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has said the government’s pay gap numbers have a credibility problem.)

And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office came to very different conclusions earlier this year — partly by throwing health, retirement and other benefits in the mix, which the salary council does not. CBO found federal employees are compensated, on average, 16 percent higher than private-sector workers. (It’s also worth noting that Gage and other union officials heavily criticized CBO’s study when it was released.)

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Romney: ‘Unfair’ for feds to get better pay, benefits

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

Now that Mitt Romney has all but locked up the GOP presidential nomination, he’s turning his focus to the general election against President Obama. And if his comments last night are any indication, your pay and benefits are going to be a hot topic between now and November:

I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. [...] This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next. [emphasis added]

This isn’t the first time Romney has taken aim at federal employees. Last August, he said the government has too many feds who are paid too much, and in November he proposed cutting 10 percent of the federal workforce through attrition to save $4 billion.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley blasted Romney’s comments:

Every day, federal workers — from law enforcement officers to food inspectors to doctors to scientists in virtually every discipline, and many others — perform a variety of tasks vital to ordinary people throughout our country. Every federal employee knows well there is a direct connection between the efforts he or she makes, day in and day out, and the quality of life for the public they serve.

Kelley also reiterated that federal employees are in the midst of a two-year pay scale freeze that is expected to save $60 billion over a decade. Also, Congress has also passed pension cuts for new and future feds that will cost them $15 billion.

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Romney: Cut federal workforce by 10 percent

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today called for cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent as part of his plan to reduce the federal deficit.

Romney said the reduction of roughly 210,000 federal employees through attrition would save about $4 billion. Under Romney’s plan, agencies would only be able to hire one new employee for every two who leave. That’s less strict than the workforce reduction bill the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved yesterday, which would only allow one new employee for every three who leave.

Romney also called for cutting federal employee compensation to bring it in line with the private sector, which he said would save $47 billion. He said federal compensation is 30 to 40 percent higher than private-sector compensation when benefits are factored in. “This must be corrected,” he said. The federal government, on the other hand, today said that federal salaries fell further behind private-sector salaries this year, largely due to the pay freeze.

“The American people are increasingly working to support the government,” Romney said, according to the Washington Post. “It ought to be the other way around.”

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Romney: ‘Too many’ federal employees, ‘paid too much’

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

ThinkProgress reports that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a swipe at the number of federal employees and their salaries this morning at a campaign stop in New Hampshire:

Federal employees, we’ve got too many of them, and they’re paid too much. In many cases, they do a good job, we respect the work that they do, it’s important work that they do. We just have too many.

Expect to hear a lot more of those kinds of criticisms from Republican candidates over the next 15 months. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column today also calls out candidate Michele Bachmann for trying to pin the growth in highly-paid Transportation Department employees on President Obama. (Long story short, a large chunk of the growth occurred on President Bush’s watch, before Obama took office, and Obama actually limited and then froze federal pay raises.)

Here’s a clip of Romney’s comment:

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