WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, voted to oppose a bill that would have extended the Federal employee pay freeze through 2015 and cut the Federal workforce by 10 percent. The motion to proceed to the measure, introduced by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), failed by a vote of 20 to 78.
Senator Akaka’s remarks in today’s Congressional Record:
Mr. President. I rise to express my deep concerns with the payroll tax alternative that our colleagues have proposed. Their alternative would be paid for by extending the current pay freeze for Federal employees through 2015 and requiring each agency to cut its workforce by 10 percent.
I strongly oppose putting the entire cost on the backs of two million middle class Federal employees, who already have contributed to deficit reduction through a two-year pay freeze. These men and women are working harder than ever with tighter budgets and, in many agencies, continued staffing shortages. If adopted, these provisions would hamper investments in national defense, homeland security, veterans’ services, food safety inspection, and other critical areas for a short-sighted approach that does little to address our current fiscal challenges and does nothing to create jobs. In the end, these policies would cost the government more, by harming the Federal government’s ability to recruit and retain highly-skilled workers and increasing our reliance on high-cost contractors.
Arbitrary caps on Federal employees often lead to waste, fraud, and abuse as contracting expands without investment in oversight. Already, over the past decade, Federal contracts have nearly doubled in size, but the acquisition workforce charged with overseeing our Federal contracts has remained constant. We should not be adding to this trend, but working to reverse it.
While I agree it is important that all Americans share the sacrifice in these challenging economic times, I believe Federal workers have already done so. The two-year Federal pay freeze enacted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 will save approximately $60 billion over the next 10 years. It is important to remember that a pay freeze affects employees much longer than just the years it is in place; future salaries will build from a lower base throughout employees’ careers. The pay freeze will also reduce future retirement benefits, because they are calculated using the high three years’ of earnings.
Nearly two thirds of our two million Federal employees are employed by the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, or Homeland Security – and according to the Office of Personnel Management, 4 out of 5 jobs filled since President Obama took office have been to these same agencies. These employees do critical work to keep our Nation safe and care for our veterans.
Approximately 85 percent of Federal employees work outside of the Washington, DC area, and they are our neighbors and constituents in each of our states. Like the rest of our constituents, they are struggling with the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Although fortunate to have more job security than most workers, many have unemployed spouses and adult children, their home values and retirement savings have fallen dramatically, and like everyone else they face high health care, college, and other costs. Contrary to what you might hear from our colleagues, Federal employees are not overpaid. Those guarding our airports and borders, and working at our naval shipyards, may start at less than $30,000 per year. Many make less than what they could in the private sector, but they work for the American people because they love their country and they are committed to service. Further cuts to Federal pay and benefits will not only hurt these individual families, but will hinder the larger economic recovery.
At a time when close to half our Federal workforce will soon be eligible to retire, I worry that extending the pay freeze could further harm our ability to recruit the best and brightest to government service. As Chairman of the Federal workforce subcommittee, I have been working with my colleagues to adopt policies to ensure that the Federal government is viewed as the employer of choice in this country. Guaranteeing fair and competitive pay for its civilian workforce should be part of our commitment to the American people that the Federal government has the right people, with the right skills to run their government in an effective and efficient manner.
Our Federal civil service is made up of hard working, talented people who have dedicated their lives to serving this country. These honorable men and women provide many essential services to the American people, including keeping our Nation safe, caring for our wounded warriors, ensuring our food and drugs are safe, and responding to natural disasters. America’s public servants deserve our gratitude and respect. I thank them for their dedication, and I urge my colleagues to support them by opposing these efforts to freeze Federal pay and hiring.