WASHINGTON—Extending benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees will strengthen the government’s recruiting and retention power and bring equity to gay and lesbian members of the federal workforce, witnesses told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Thursday.
The testimony came at a hearing called by Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and entitled, “Domestic Partner Benefits: Fair Policy and Good Business for the Federal Government.” Testimony focused on the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, S. 1102, introduced in May by Lieberman and Collins. It has 23 cosponsors.
“This bill is the fair and right thing to do and makes practical sense for the federal government as an employer,” Lieberman said. “As we approach a generational change in the federal workforce that will see the retirement of one-third of all federal employees, we must do all we can to attract and retain the ‘best and the brightest’ to serve in the years ahead. This legislation will balance the scales of justice, but it will also help the federal government be the best it can be.”
Collins said: “When it comes to employment, the federal government must compete with the private sector in attracting the most qualified, skilled, and dedicated employees. Today, health, medical, and other benefits are a major component of any competitive employment package. As we learned at our hearing on this bill during the last Congress, the private sector offers domestic partner benefits as part of its strategy for building a stronger workforce. These benefits help foster a sense of loyalty between the employees and the organization, creating a more stable and productive work environment. Many state and local governments also have extended employee benefits to domestic partners in committed relationship. For example, Maine’s state government offers benefits to its employees who are in committed domestic partnerships. If the federal government is to compete with the private sector for the most talented members of our workforce, and if our goal is to create a loyal, dynamic federal workforce for the future, then we need to be able to offer competitive benefits.”
Under the legislation, same-sex domestic partners of federal employees would be eligible to participate in health benefits, long-term care, Family and Medical Leave and federal retirement benefits, among others. Federal employees and their domestic partners would also be subject to the same legal responsibilities that apply to married employees and their spouses, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.
According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, approximately 30,000 federal workers live in committed relationships with same-sex domestic partners who are not federal employees.
About 10,000 private sector companies provide benefits to domestic partners – as do 59 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including Disney, General Electric, IBM, the Chubb Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Duke Energy and Dow Chemical. In addition, the governments of 22 states, about 154 local jurisdictions, and over 300 colleges and universities provide such benefits.
Based on the experience of private companies and state and local governments, the Office of Personnel Management has estimated that providing health and retirement benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees would increase the cost of those programs by about $633 million over 10 years. John Berry, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, testified at the hearing that the cost in 2010 would be about $56 million, just two-tenths of a percent of how much employee health insurance costs the entire federal government. Lieberman said at the hearing that the cost is well worth the benefits that will accrue in recruiting and retaining the best people to serve as federal employees.
Lieberman has introduced the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act in the past three Congresses. The Committee last year held the first ever Congressional hearing on the issue of federal employee domestic partner benefits.
In June, President Obama issued a memorandum extending some benefits to domestic partners of federal employees. However, certain benefits–such as health care and life insurance–can only be extended to domestic partners by an act of Congress.
In addition to Berry, witnesses were Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who introduced the House companion bill to S. 1102; and Dr. William Hendrix, Global Leader of Gays, Lesbians and Allies at Dow Chemical, which offers benefits on an equal basis to their employees’ domestic partners.