President’s Budget Proposal Threatens Federal Employees and Undermines Civil Service

Press Release February 12, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Federal employees reading the administration’s budget proposal would not recognize themselves in the misleading description of workers who should be paid less, while paying more for their benefits and retirement.

“This document grossly distorts the current state of the federal workforce. They are not overpaid and underworked; they are middle-class Americans dedicated to public service and supporting their families,” said Tony Reardon, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union. “I look forward to offering a fact-based rebuttal to these proposals, after which Congress and the American people will stand and defend our civil servants by giving them the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.”

The budget contains a familiar laundry list of anti-federal employee proposals: blocking an across the board raise in 2019; slowing an employee’s career progression; making workers pay more toward retirement, which shrinks paychecks; lowering pensions; diminishing the government’s share toward health insurance; cutting sick and annual leave; weakening due process protections; and cutting worker compensation benefits.

Blocking a modest pay adjustment in 2019, as called for in the regular economic analysis based on private-sector pay adjustments Congress relies upon, would make federal employees fall further behind their private sector counterparts and damage our government’s ability to recruit and retain skilled workers.

According to the Department of Labor’s Employment Cost Index, private industry wages have increased an average 10.4 percent over the last five years, while federal employees have risen 6.9 percent over the same time.

“Federal employees are not Washington insiders. They live in every state and U.S. territory, just trying to earn a living, pay their bills, and save for their senior years,” Reardon said. “Pay freezes only chase the best and brightest workers to the private sector, where many of them can earn significantly higher salaries and avoid the demoralizing attacks from elected officials.”

NTEU instead supports legislation giving federal workers a 3 percent adjustment in 2019.

Overall, the administration suggests that federal employees give up $68 billion over 10 years through cuts to their health and retirement benefits, which would be on top of the $200 billion already slashed since 2011.

“Why is it that after passing a massive tax cut for wealthy Americans, politicians go looking for savings on the backs of federal employees?” Reardon said.

The budget also contains alarming language, under the guise of maximizing employee performance, that would eliminate protections against unfairly removing federal employees from service.

“It is unfortunate that the president’s newfound affection for due process does not extend to all of the men and women who work for the federal government, not just those in the West Wing,” Reardon said.

It has become a common refrain in some quarters to claim that the General Schedule is outdated and lacking measures and flexibilities to reward performing federal employees and discipline or remove those who aren’t, Reardon said.

“In fact, the General Schedule has built-in provisions to reward good employees and deal with poor performers. The real problem is that federal managers are not trained in their use, or simply decide not to use them, or Congress has not provided agencies with the funding to do so,” he added. NTEU has long supported additional federal manager and supervisor training as a way to use these tools more effectively.

NTEU will oppose the budget’s call to dramatically reduce agency budgets and any reform that has as its stated goal a reduction in the size of the federal workforce. Many agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service and Customs and Border Protection, are already understaffed.

“They say a president’s budget is a statement of vision. If so, then this administration envisions a civil service that is based on political fealty, not merit; a weakened federal workforce; federal agencies that can’t keep up with taxpayer demands; and more and more taxpayer services being delivered by for-profit corporations, not public servants,” Reardon said.

NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 32 federal agencies and departments.