Federal employees have repeatedly been asked to shoulder the burden of deficit reduction and this past week, they were targeted once again.
Since 2011, federal workers have seen their pay frozen and pension contributions increased for new hires without corresponding increases in benefits. In total, Congress has reduced federal employee pay and benefits $118 billion, nearly $50,000 per employee – far more than any other American has contributed towards deficit reduction.
These contributions are not enough for the Republican majority. The Fiscal Year 2014 Military Construction, Veterans Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill aims to continue this pay freeze for the fourth consecutive year by eliminating money in the budget that would be put toward the one percent pay increase requested by President Obama.
Far right Republicans like to paint a portrait of federal workers as lazy bureaucrats, but this depiction could not be farther from the truth. Our federal employees are hard-working middle class Americans who have dedicated their lives to public service. They are highly skilled and highly educated. Further, many are underpaid. A Federal Salary Council 2012 report found that federal employees were paid nearly 35% less than employees in similar occupations in the private sector.
This pay freeze would impact individuals like Susan Angell, the executive director of the Homeless Veterans Initiative for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Susan worked on an interdepartmental program credited with helping to reduce the number of homeless veterans by 12 percent in just one year.
David Vollman, a Staff Ophthalmologist at the Veterans Health Administration, would also be impacted by this pay freeze. David could certainly make more money working in private practice, but decided instead to work for the federal government, where he is credited for improving cataract surgeries for veterans.
Congress must stop punishing federal workers like Susan and David for problems they did not create. To prevent this fourth consecutive pay freeze, I introduced an amendment to the Military Construction Appropriations bill that would restore funding for a one percent pay increase by finding offsets in savings from military construction projects that came in under their bid projections.
Unfortunately, my amendment failed on a close 23-25 vote in the Appropriations Committee.
On top of the continued pay freeze, last Friday marked the beginning of massive federal employee furloughs. The Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Management and Budget closed to the public on Friday, keeping roughly 115,000 federal workers home without pay.
Unlike what occurred after government shutdowns in the 1990’s, these workers will not be reimbursed.
65,000 federal employees live in the 8th District and more than 110,000 work here. Furloughing these workers will negatively affect our local economy. Further, many of these individuals have children in college, mortgages, and car payments. Federal furloughs could result in as much as a twenty percent pay cut for some employees.
Our federal workers did not cause this mess. It’s unfair they must bear the brunt of congressional dysfunction, and I will continue fighting attempts to undermine our talented workforce.