Federal employee unions and their allies on Capitol Hill are drawing a line in the sand against potential efforts to solve the "fiscal cliff" crisis on the backs of the federal workforce, saying the civil service already has done its part.
A bipartisan group of nine House members sent a letter this week to President Obama, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, highlighting contributions federal and postal employees have made to recent efforts to reduce the federal debt and deficits.
The lawmakers say that, since the beginning of 2011 — through various legislative and administration actions — budget savings derived from reduced compensation and benefits for the federal workforce has totaled at least $103 billion, or more than $50,000 per employee over the 10-year budget window.
"Many [federal and postal employees] face an uncertain employment future under almost any deficit reduction scenario. And to date, no other group has been asked to financially contribute the way they have," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
"We respectfully request that you carefully consider the implications that any proposed agreement would have on these Americans so that it reflects the substantial budget savings that the federal workforce has contributed thus far."
The signers — including the letter's main sponsor, Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat — all hail from Virginia, Maryland and the District, where there is a significant federal workforce.
The other Democrats who signed are Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, Donna F. Edwards and John P. Sarbanes of Maryland; Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia, and nonvoting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton — all Democrats. The Republicans who signed the letter are Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Robert J. Wittman of Virginia.
A coalition of almost two dozen organizations of federal employees, managers and retirees also this week sent every member of Congress a similar letter, urging them not "to extract even more budget savings directly from federal workers and retirees" in conjunction with fiscal cliff negotiations.
The groups said the $103 billion in "economic sacrifices" made by federal workers is comprised of $60 billion over 10 years from the ongoing two-year pay freeze, at least $28 billion in savings from a reduced and delayed 2013 pay raise, and another $15 billion from an increase in the retirement contributions of new federal hires.
"Clearly, federal workers and retirees have done more than any other group in the name of deficit reduction," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "It is time for others to step up and recognize the need for shared sacrifice."
But Daniel J. Mitchell, a tax reform scholar with the Cato Institute, a free market-leaning Washington think tank, said such a rationale is nonsense and that federal employees in general have stronger compensation packages than the private sector.
He said the "voluntary quit ratio" — the percentage of employees that leave a job on their own terms — is lower among government workers compared with private-sector employees, suggesting federal workers are more satisfied with their pay and benefits.
Mr. Mitchell added that the government workforce is bloated and therefore must be part of any equation to lower the federal debt and deficit.
"It's a good gig if you can get it, and that's why they don't quit those jobs," he said.
A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released in January showed the federal government overall paid 16 percent more in total compensation than it would have if average compensation had been comparable with the private sector.
The study, which looked at workers' compensation from 2005 to 2010, found that wages between federal employees and similar private-sector employees vary widely depending on the employees' level of education.
Federal civilian workers with no more than a high school education, for example, earned about 21 percent more, on average, than similar workers in the private sector. But workers whose highest level of education was a bachelor's degree earned roughly the same hourly wages, on average, in the federal government and the private sector.
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