WASHINGTON – Federal agencies have more than enough flexibility within the current pay system to raise wages as needed to meet market demands, yet they continue to suffer from budget shortfalls and bureaucratic foot-dragging, the head of the largest federal employee union told a Senate panel today.
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. rejected the charge that the federal pay system itself is to blame for agency failures to respond quickly to changing labor market conditions. In the past several years, it has been austerity budgets and the strong reluctance on the part of agencies to incur higher costs.
“The bottom line is that the federal pay systems suffer from a lack of funding, not a lack of flexibility,” Cox said in testimony delivered Oct. 22 to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management.
Following the discovery of an oil field in the Bakken region of North Dakota in 2006, the demand in the region skyrocketed. Wages and prices both rose substantially. Yet federal agencies in the region were slow to respond.
Cox attributed the delays to finger pointing between government agencies and lack of money to cover the higher wages. Once agencies made the formal request to increase wages, the Office of Personnel Management responded within eight to 12 weeks – a fair turnaround, he said.
“There is no question that current law and regulation contain fully adequate flexibilities for responding to special economic situations such as surges in demand and prices,” Cox said. “The delayed and limited action on the part of federal agencies in response to the oil boom in the Bakken region was wholly a function of austerity budgets and bureaucratic foot-dragging on the part of agencies. OPM did its part and did so quickly.”
Cox continued, “The federal pay system’s only real problem is the refusal of successive Congresses and successive presidential administrations to provide adequate funding.”