Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia has been a champion of federal employees. He believes in good government. After all, a good government meets its citizens’ needs, provides adequate resources for the employees to do their jobs, and empowers the workforce to accomplish their missions.
But in the past several years, many of his colleagues have done the opposite of what they should be doing. They attack the government and the very people who carry out the country’s important work. They deprive the funding needed to run government programs and fairly compensate the workforce.
Connolly recently sat down with a group of Northern Virginia Labor Confederation activists, including AFGE Council 1 President Ottis Johnson and AFGE members, to explain why federal employees are being attacked and what should be done going forward.
1. Some members of Congress do not believe in government at all
Our government exists to create safe and thriving communities, to make our lives better, but Connolly said some of his colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not believe in the role of the government, thus an assault on the government and its workforce.
“They really don’t believe in government at all,” he said. “So anything that makes the government attractive either to people who work for it or people who benefit from it is bad. So the more it’s dysfunctional, the more it’s starved, the more unpleasant the workplace is the better.”
Not all Republicans subscribe to an extreme anti-labor agenda, though, Connolly said. Some have voted with him to protect workers’ rights like the Davis-Bacon Act that mandates local prevailing wages on public works projects.
2. Assaults on federal employees are systematic
The fact that these lawmakers don’t believe in government leads to assaults on government employees.
“The assaults on federal employees are systematic,” he said. “They started by clipping compensation, by restricting benefits, and by exacting money out of federal employees to reduce the debt. No group in America has been asked to provide cash to reduce the national debt except federal employees.”
What’s more? They have gone after federal employees’ ability to organize. There are proposals to go right after federal pensions to change the system into a 401K style plan, which means drastic cuts to their retirement. They even tried to use federal pensions as a way to finance transit.
They are also trying to get rid of “official time” – dedicated work hours in which agency managers and unions representatives use to improve agency operations. Connolly said a lot of things get done on official time and the government benefits from it, including improving work processes and dealing with disputes before they escalate into expensive court fights. Previous administrations and Congresses embraced it, but now many of his colleagues are making it to sound like it’s a bad thing when in reality what they’re doing is getting rid of unions from the workplace.
“They see federal unions as a real threat, something that they need to conquer,” he added.
3. Budget cuts are a deliberate attempt to drive employees away
The Trump budget targets civilian agencies with cuts anywhere from 20 to 35 percent. Connolly said his colleagues have been attacking the IRS for years. Now they’re going after other agencies, notably the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Connolly warned that the government could be facing a brain drain as 40% of the entire federal workers are eligible to retire and all the budget cuts and attacks on their pay and pensions would drive people out. But that’s exactly what these lawmakers want.
“They’re making the federal service so unattractive that there will be a rush to the door,” he added.
4. We can roll back the attacks on government employees
Connolly is currently ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations which has oversight over federal employee issues. Asked what he plans to do if his party gets more seats in the mid-term elections next year, Connolly said he plans to roll back attacks on federal employees if he becomes chairman of the subcommittee.
“The midterms are so important. If we can control the House, this dialogue changes. If I become chairman, I’ll lead the charge on your behalf,” he added.