May 16, 2011
AFGE Seeks Congressional Intervention on Efforts to Gut Federal Benefits: AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten last week wrote to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, asking them to reject proposals that would sharply cut pay and benefits for federal employees. Federal employees hired after 1983 have already paid 12% of salary to get a benefit as good as those older or hired before 1983 when a new law took effect to require a greater contribution from employees. But under one of the proposals that has been floating around and gaining traction – the Simpson-Bowles plan – these employees would have to fork over 18% of salary toward retirement. This is on top of the pay freeze that is in place this year and next and pending proposals to freeze federal pay for five more years. The Simpson-Bowles plan would turn the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) into a voucher program that would result in employees paying 63% of their health insurance premiums rather than the 33% they pay today. The plan would also cut the government’s share of insurance premiums for federal retirees.
“While it is true that many private firms have broken promises to employees to provide health insurance in retirement, that is the behavior that a presidential commission and the Congress should deplore, not seek to emulate,” Moten wrote in the May 12 letter.
Another anti-federal employee plan is being implemented at the Defense Department – the Efficiency Initiative – that caps the civilian workforce at fiscal 2010 levels. The Army alone will likely have to cut 33,000 civilian positions over the next few years.
Bill Introduced to Freeze Federal Hiring until Deficit is Eliminated: Even though the Bush tax cuts are the primary source of the current federal deficits, Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., recently introduced a bill that would stop most federal hiring until the federal deficit is eliminated. The Federal Hiring Freeze Act of 2011, H.R. 1779, would affect all federal agencies except for the U.S. Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission; federal law-enforcement positions; the reassignment of personnel within the same agency; short-term, seasonal hiring; or transitional positions involving a new presidential administration. Marino said the bill calls for a “responsible” freeze on the federal workforce, allowing for what he calls “common-sense exceptions” during times of war or for law enforcement, and national security concerns.
Because somebody still needs to do the work, the bill, if passed, will most likely lead to wholesale outsourcing of federal jobs. Outsourcing is 25 percent more expensive than doing the work in-house, according to the Defense Department, which does the most outsourcing in the federal government. DoD is implementing a similar plan proposed by Marino. The agency is capping the workforce at fiscal 2010 levels, which will lead to the elimination of tens of thousands of positions. The Army currently allows only one civilian employee to be hired for every three who depart, and only in special circumstances.
The Federal Hiring Freeze Act is the first bill Marino has introduced since taking office in January. Two months later, the freshman lawmaker, who’s also a member of the House Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, drew attention when he appeared to be unaware that Libya is in Africa when he attacked President Obama by asking, “Where does it stop? Do we go into Africa next? I don’t want to sound callous or cold, but this could go on indefinitely around the world.”
AFGE Seeks to Cap Taxpayers’ Reimbursement for Lavishly-Paid Contractor Execs to $200,000: AFGE President John Gage is urging President Barack Obama to cap taxpayers’ reimbursement for lavishly-compensated executives of government contractors at $200,000. In a recent letter to President Barack Obama, AFGE President John Gage said taxpayers should not be forced to reimburse government contractors beyond what is earned by the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State or any other cabinet secretaries. Any amount over $200,000 should come out of the companies’ profits, not taxpayers.
“This proposal has the advantage of being simple and easily understood. It would neither micro-manage contractor compensation nor would it cap contractors’ salaries,” President Gage wrote. “Rather, it would limit the amount that contractors can be reimbursed by taxpayers for outrageously high salaries. If contractors insist on continuing to pay outrageous salaries, they can – provided they get the necessary money from someone other than Uncle Sam.”
President Gage said this measure is needed because many politicians have attacked the pay and benefits earned by federal employees even though their salaries are considerably less than those earned by private sector workers in comparable jobs. Contractor pay is what’s been conspicuously missing from the debate. At one of the top government contractors Booz Allen, which could not exist were it not for taxpayer dollars, the five highest salaries are $4.2 million; $4.04 million; $3.89 million, $3.88 million, and $3.80 million.
“At the time of budget stringency, few parts of the budget or tax code should be off limits for scrutiny – and certainly not the lucrative salaries for contractors that are ultimately paid for through taxpayer dollars,” President Gage said.
Bill Introduced to Merge Energy Dept., Environmental Protection Agency: Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, recently introduced a bill that would consolidate the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency into a single, new agency called the Department of Energy and Environment.
One Year Later, VA Still Refuses to Comply with New Nurse Protection Law: AFGE and our National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) are disappointed in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) slow response to comply with valuable provisions in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 that were intended to improve the recruitment and retention of VA nurses. These include rights for part-time registered nurses to become permanent employees after a two-year probationary period, retention of permanent job rights for full-time Registered Nurses who switch to part-time status and a clear definition of a true emergency in order to rein in the misuse of mandatory nurse overtime.
“We are disheartened by the VA’s lack of initiative and compliance with this landmark legislation. The enactment of the law has made significant strides in strengthening protections for the nurses who deliver care to America’s veterans, but the agency has been reluctant to put them into action,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer who was a VA nurse for more than 23 years. “Our VA council is also troubled by provisions in this law that gave VA nurse executives a 400% increase in their yearly bonuses. It remains to be seen how the VA can justify $100,000 yearly bonuses to these executives while cutting front line nursing staff and closing hospitals due to nurse shortages.”
Army Secretary Says Insourcing Still Alive: In response to AFGE’s concerns over a Feb. 1 memo ordering Army commanders to immediately suspend all insourcing activities, Army Secretary John McHugh assured President John Gage that the Army is still allowing contracted work to be brought back in-house and performed by civilian employees. The secretary said that nobody can disapprove insourcing except for him and that he agrees with AFGE that the contractor workforce needs to be scrutinized as part of the total workforce analysis. “By reserving the insourcing authority to my level, we have ensured that there is a viable process for exceptions to the Department of Defense freeze of civilian billets at the fiscal 2010 level,” the secretary said in a May 12 letter to President Gage, adding his personal involvement ensures that the freeze is not arbitrarily applied.
The secretary acknowledged AFGE’s concern that installations may resort to outsourcing in response to his insourcing suspension memo. He said the Army has sent out guidance to its components reminding people of the current statutory suspension on public-private A-76 competitions and direct conversion of government jobs to contractors.
While AFGE appreciates the secretary’s thoughtful response, the union still believes it makes no sense that he has to personally approve all insourcing but not new contracts, that he may decide what happens but that people are reluctant to pursue good insourcing proposals because it is so much more difficult to get approval for insourcing than it is for outsourcing. There are many meritorious exceptions that have been proposed but have not yet been approved.
Boehner Presses for Deeper Public Service Cuts While Keeping Tax Cuts for Billionaires: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told a Wall Street crowd last week that his plan to tackle the deficit is to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy and find deeper cuts in public programs, which serve mostly the middle class and the poor.
Sen. Harkin’s Unsung Heroes – Public Employees: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wrote an op-ed titled Unsung Heroes: Recognizing Our Public Servants in the Huffington Post honoring public employees during Public Service Recognition Week, May 1-7.
“They will probably never see their names in lights or walk on a red carpet, but our public servants – from police officers to firefighters, from sanitation crews to social security personnel, from teachers to postal workers – arre the unsung heroes of our communities,” Harkin wrote. “They have dedicated their careers to making our lives better, and for that, they deserve our respect and gratitude. Therefore, I call on my colleagues and friends all over the country to take a moment during this Public Service Recognition Week (May 1-7) to honor those who dedicate their lives to the greater good.”
Read the full op-ed here.
Think You Know Our Nation’s Budget Problems? Take a 12-question quiz here. A few examples of the questions:
• What is the biggest area of spending in the federal budget?
• Households making between $74,700 and $102,900 annually pay about 21 percent of their incomes in federal taxes. How much do the wealthiest 400 Americans pay?
• The CBO projected in 2001 that the federal income tax would generate about $9 trillion in revenue from 2002 to 2007. This was before President Bush enacted his first round of tax cuts that year, saying it would spur growth. How much tax revenue was actually generated from 2002 to 2007?
• How do current corporate income tax revenues compare to historic corporate income tax revenues?
Union Busting Leads to Wider Income Inequity in U.S.: Income inequity in America is worse than that in some developing and underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, and Kazakhstan. One of the main factors that led income inequity in America is union busting, which effectively undermines unions’ ability to negotiate fair wages for workers.
Inside Government: Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” to learn about the state of American manufacturing. The show, which originally aired on Friday, May 13, is now available on demand. Alliance for American Manufacturing Executive Director Scott Paul provided an update on the state of American manufacturing and how investments in infrastructure could improve the economy and create jobs. Paul also discussed China’s currency manipulation and its impact on manufacturing. AFGE Local 2281 2nd Vice President Barbara Heckman-Sauer then previewed National Police Week and highlighted her work with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Heckman-Sauer also discussed her fight to defend workplace protections for police officers in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Lastly, Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund (FEEA) Director of Field Operations Robyn Kehoe discussed FEEA’s 25thanniversary. FEEA helps federal workers in need through emergency assistance, grants and scholarships.
Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at www.federalnewsradio.com.
Quote of the Week
AFGE Legislative Director Beth Moten on the Simpson-Bowles proposal that would deeply cut benefits for federal employees:
“If enacted, FERS employees would thus have to pay over 18% of salary toward retirement. Most AFGE members would be unable to afford this. In order to make ends meet, they would have to eliminate their contributions to the TSP. Then they would lose investment earnings from their own contributions as well as the government match.”