The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “Supercommittee,” was mandated by last Augusts’ Budget Control Act with coming up with a plan to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by November 23.
Since the formation of the Supercommittee, a number of lawmakers have put forward ideas to further reduce the pay, benefits and size of the federal workforce. Achieving over $1 trillion in savings will require tough choices in spending reductions, but focusing solely, and putatively, on our civil service, is not the solution to a balanced budget.
Last week, I joined several of my colleagues in writing a letter to the Supercommittee co-chairs urging the panel to resist further cuts to federal employee pay and benefits.
The United States has unarguably the greatest civil service in the world. Efficiencies can be found to make government work smarter, but misguided efforts to reduce spending through cuts to our federal workforce will only undermine the important work they do and damage the economy in the process.
Notably, federal employees have already contributed their fair share. By forgoing scheduled salary increases in 2011 and 2012, federal employees have contributed at least $60 billion to deficit reduction.
Additionally, there are a number of proposals that call for up to a five or six percent increase in employee contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Let’s call a spade a spade, an increased contribution toward one’s pension, with no corresponding increase in benefits, is simply: a pay cut.
Continued public sector job losses at all levels of government are keeping unemployment at over nine percent, further reducing consumer buying power and demand. And at a time when there is an even greater demand for its services, these job losses are impairing government’s ability to help.
The fact is, we already ask our civil servants to do more with less. The size of the federal workforce has actually declined in recent decades. In 1953, there was one federal worker per 78U.S. residents. In 2008, this ratio had dropped to one federal worker per 155 residents.
Perhaps most alarming are proposals to transform the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP) into a “voucher” system tied to GDP instead of medical inflation. A change of this nature would shift the burden of health care premiums to employees and effectively eliminate one of the biggest tools in the recruitment and retention of highly qualified employees. Savings can be found elsewhere. For example, President Obama suggested reforming the contracting practices of Pharmacy Benefits Managers, creating savings of $1.6 billion over ten years.
Failure to find an agreement on the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction among the Supercommittee triggers drastic across-the-board cuts that would harm all federal agencies. From securing our borders, to processing Social Security claims, to ensuring our food is safe to consume, our civil servants are critical to the well-being of the American people. The United States needs to make reductions in spending, but balancing the budget on the backs of our federal workers is unfair and unwise.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.