WASHINGTON – Federal employees remain committed to their jobs despite years of cuts to their pay and retirement, but agency budget cuts threaten their ability to do their jobs effectively, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said today.
“The American people are lucky to have such devotion on the part of the federal workforce after four and a half years of relentless attacks,” Cox said in testimony delivered today to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce.
“But as devoted as federal employees are, the budget policies of this era are making it all but impossible for this workforce to keep up productivity and efficiency.”
At the Border Patrol, managers are being rewarded with performance bonuses for cutting costs, instead of increasing the number of arrests or amount of illegal drugs confiscated.
The Department of Agriculture wants to increase line speeds at poultry processing plants to 175 birds per minute and replace government inspectors with company employees to save money, despite concerns from lawmakers, watchdog groups and consumers about the impact on food safety.
Caseloads for psychiatrists and other primary care physicians at veterans’ hospitals now routinely exceed 2,000 patients, even though the Veterans Affairs Department’s own handbook says no physician should have more than 1,200 patients at a time.
“Like Border Patrol and the USDA, the Veterans Health Administration has increasingly placed efficiency over the health and welfare of veterans,” Cox said. “Higher caseloads for primary care providers may be efficient, but the sacred mission of the VA is being sacrificed in the process.”
In addition to the drastic budget cuts required under sequestration, federal employees have been targeted like no other group of Americans for cuts to their pay and benefits. An unprecedented three-year pay freeze cut the purchasing power of a federal paycheck by 7 percent, while increases in mandatory retirement contributions for new employees has cut their purchasing power by an additional 2.3 to 3.6 percent.
About 750,000 federal employees were laid off without pay for as many as six days in the summer of 2013 due to mandatory budget cuts required under sequestration. Then in October, employees were locked out of their jobs for 16 days during a government shutdown that had lasting consequences on employees’ finances and their morale.
“They are still paying off debts incurred from sequestration and the delayed paychecks of the shutdown. They are furious that their employer holds them in such low regard,” Cox said. “They are sick and tired of simultaneously being Congress’ and the Administration’s punching bag and ATM. But they love their country, they love their jobs and they are devoted to the missions of their agencies.”
Cox also spoke out against any reforms to the federal pay system that would undermine the current system’s inherent protections against favoritism and discrimination.
A recent report by the Partnership for Public Service, funded by Booz Allen Hamilton, recommended replacing the General Schedule with a pay system identical to the Department of Defense’s failed National Security Personnel System, which was repealed in 2009 on the grounds that it discriminated against employees.
The Booz Allen plan would introduce subjectivity and politicization into the federal pay system and undermine veterans’ preference and merit system principles, Cox said. In addition, it would undo one of the greatest virtues of the current pay system, which is that employees are paid virtually the same at each grade level regardless of gender, as highlighted in a recent report by the Office of Personnel Management.
“In the jargon of pay-setting, the General Schedule is oriented more toward a ‘rank-in-position’ rather than a ‘rank-in-person’. And that orientation is the secret to having a pay system that avoids discrimination,” Cox said.