AFGE Calls on Congress to Protect Civil Service, Federal Pay

Categories: The Insider

At a congressional hearing on March 27, AFGE Public Policy Director Jacque Simon asked lawmakers to protect the merit systems and the apolitical civil service that have been under attack by the Trump administration.

Highlighting our union’s three priorities, Simon explained how the administration is systematically sabotaging our government and its workforce, and how we can stop it.

1.    Federal pay
There’s a reason our union is asking Congress to give federal employees a 3.6 percent raise next year.

The Trump administration and its allies work hard to undermine trust in the federal pay system and try to argue that it needs to be replaced. The truth is that the federal pay system is extremely well-designed, and its only real problem is that it has never been properly funded.

A little background about the federal pay system:
•    Federal pay systems have two important characteristics: they are market-based, and they assign pay according to the duties and responsibilities of the job — not the characteristics of the individual who holds the job. The result is that there is very little discrimination in pay in the federal government. The opposite is true in the private sector.   
•    But, the market comparability gap is far larger. The most recent Pay Agent report using Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the average pay gap is still 33.7 percent. The current system was designed to close pay gaps on a local basis. In the years since locality pay was enacted in 1990, little progress has been made in closing local pay gaps. That is why we are asking Congress for a 3.6 percent increase for 2020 to help raise federal salaries so that they will be a positive factor in recruitment and retention.  
•    We also ask that federal workers in the skilled trades who are paid on an hourly basis receive the same adjustment as their GS coworkers, and that Congress pass legislation to align the local pay area boundaries between the two federal pay systems.
2.    Outsourcing of federal jobs
Our union is asking Congress to extend the ban on the use of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-76, which is the process agencies use to decide whether to contract out government work. The flaws of A-76 are serious and include systematic overcounting of in-house costs.
Congress put in place the moratorium following the Bush administration’s aggressive use of the controversial A-76 process to privatize federal jobs. It had pushed agencies to identify jobs that could be outsourced. It had plans to open more than 400,000 federal jobs to contractor competition.
The moratorium is meant to prod OMB to address the Circular’s flaws, but also to force agencies to inventory their service contracts so that their enormous costs are no longer hidden in the budget process and that contractors are held responsible for cost and quality.

The moratorium should stay in place because OMB has never addressed the problem.
3.    Abolishing OPM
The Trump administration is planning to abolish the Office of Personnel Management, a centralized civil service agency, and merge most of its operations into the General Service Administration (GSA), which manages office space and fleets of vehicles. OPM’s policy function would go to the Executive Office of the President.  The administration provides no analysis of the impact on operations, jobs, risks or even costs or benefits.  

The merger poses a danger to the apolitical civil service. Moving the policy function of OPM into the White House is an attempt to politicize the federal civil service. The administration has questioned the political loyalties of federal employees. It has tried to eliminate, restrict or otherwise undermine federal employees’ due process and collective bargaining rights. Abolishing the agency that has primary responsibility for upholding the merit system facilitates this agenda.  
The three priorities highlighted in this testimon  are interrelated.  

“Their agenda is clear,” Simon told the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. “By eliminating career tenure, cutting salaries and benefits, reducing civil service protections and gutting collective bargaining rights, pushing for outsourcing, and all but eliminating the agency responsible for upholding the merit system, the civil service doesn’t stand a chance if the administration’s agenda proceeds.”

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