Northern Virginia is home to the largest concentration of federal workers in the country. In the 8th District alone, more than 65,000 federal employees live and over 110,000 federal employees work. In the past few months, political attacks on the federal civil service have risen.
Many of the new voices in Congress have been vocal opponents of public sector employees. They claim the federal government is broken and are attempting to freeze or cut employee pay and benefits in ways that could break it.
Using our federal employees to score political points is not fair. Last week, in the face of a federal government shutdown, our federal employees again showed tremendous commitment to the American people. They kept their heads down and continued doing their jobs under the prospect they wouldn’t see their next paycheck on time, and perhaps lose it.
Last week’s budget battle was not the fault of our federal employees and they should not be penalized as such. It is for this reason my colleagues and I introduced legislation to ensure federal employees, both furloughed and those expected to work during a shutdown, would receive retroactive pay for the duration of a federal government shutdown.
Fortunately, Congressional leadership was able to arrive at a compromise before funding expired late Friday evening and our federal workers were able to work without interruption.
Over the next five years, 60 percent of the federal workforce will become eligible for retirement. It is imperative that we do what we can to attract the best and brightest to fill this approaching gap in in talent. Recently, Representative Gerry Connolly and I introduced legislation bolstering our federal internship programs, making it easier for agencies to recruit promising young adults to government service.
In addition to recruiting young workers to public service, the federal government must concurrently train those already in the workforce to be better managers, strengthen the entire workforce. This week, I joined Senator Daniel Akaka as well as Representatives Frank Wolf and Connolly in proposing legislation to improve training for our federal supervisors.
In another development affecting the federal workforce, House Republicans, led by Budget Chair Paul Ryan, have put forward a budget resolution that would freeze or cut the pay of federal workers as a means to reduce the deficit. Ryan’s plan would institute a five-year pay freeze, cut the workforce by 10 percent and require employees to increase contributions to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. Not only would these proposals do little to pull our nation out of the red, but if Congressional leaders are serious about reducing our deficit, they should work to close tax loopholes for oil companies and the extremely wealthy, rather than focusing their energies on cutting salaries of the middle-class.
As has been made clear in a recent study, federal workers earn less than their private sector counterparts — on average 24 percent less. In most cases, it is a commitment to working for the public good that attracts individuals to public service at all levels of government, not salary. But a commitment alone will not pay a family’s mortgage or an individual’s car payments. Freezing pay for federal employees weakens our economy and communities, particularly in our region.
Our federal workforce is the least corrupt, smartest, and best civil service in the world. I will continue fighting to keep our workforce the envy of international peers.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.