This week Republicans continued their attack on the federal workforce. Led by Tea Party extremists, the House put forward a bill to freeze the pay for federal employees for another year, what would be the third in a row.
Unfortunately, legislation targeting our workforce seems to come before Congress more and more frequently. In the past year, we have seen numerous proposals to freeze employee pay, cut the workforce through attrition, require federal employees to contribute more to their retirement, eliminate the Social Security supplement and increase their health care premiums.
Republicans like to paint a portrait of federal workers as lazy bureaucrats. But the reality couldn’t be farther from this portrayal. Our federal workforce is comprised of dedicated employees who work very hard serving our country.
Of the 2.1 million federal workers nationwide, 773,000 work for the Department of Defense, 183,000 for the Department of Homeland Security, 305,000 for the Veterans Administration, and 118,000 for the Department of Justice.
In other words, nearly two-thirds of our civil service works in jobs related to national security, at home and abroad, or caring for our veterans. Every one of those employees is a target of Republican’s misguided attacks.
These workers include employees of the Joint POW/MIA Accountability Command which works to find, identify, and return the remains of the more than 83,000 uniformed service members killed or missing in action since World War II.
It also includes Dr. Alfonso Batres from Northern Virginia, who was recognized last year for his work at the VA helping to create a national network of community-based centers where veterans traumatized by combat obtain counseling, job assistance, and medical referrals.
Federal employees are drawn to public sector employment by a sense of service, but they should still receive adequate compensation. They have already seen a two-year pay freeze for 2011 and 2012, contributing more than $60 billion towards deficit reduction – the only constituency to sacrifice benefits to date.
President Obama will recommend a 0.5 percent pay increase for the federal workforce in his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal. An end to the pay freeze is welcome, but the Administration should have, at a minimum, followed the standard apolitical formula for calculating pay raises, which recommends in a 1.2% increase.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report this week comparing salaries of public sector to private sector employees. The study revealed that our most educated federal workers – those with post-graduate and doctoral degrees – earn 23 percent less in wages than private sector counterparts. The private sector continues to outpace the public sector in terms of pay they are offering workers. A pay gap that ultimately weakens the federal workforce and should be corrected.
Our federal employees continue to do more with less. Agency budgets have already seen large cuts and could face significant cuts should sequestration occur. If the Federal Government wants to continue recruiting and retaining the best and brightest to public service, compensation and benefits must remain competitive. Ideologically driven bills put forward by House Republicans do just the opposite.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.