White House calls for pay freeze and benefits cuts

By on 15/02/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Worry over the White House's 2019 budget recommendations (Image courtesy: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

US federal employee organisations have sounded the alarm over a pay freeze and other provisions set out this week in the White House’s 2019 budget recommendation, warning that implementing the cuts would hamper recruitment.

The suite of documents, issued on Monday by the White House Office of Management and Budget, proposes a freeze on across-the-board pay increases for civilian employees for fiscal year 2019, which starts on 1 October 2018.

It also proposes to cut the number of longevity-based pay rises and to increase performance-based pay, and to raise workers’ contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Federal freeze

“It’s really unfortunate, at a time when the president is promoting and bragging about a strong economy and getting people back to work, that he would punish individuals who are just doing the jobs that Congress tasked them to do,” Jessica Klement, staff vice president, advocacy for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), told Global Government Forum.

But she added that many of this year’s proposals are far from unusual, having appeared in former president Barack Obama’s budget proposals.

In a statement, NARFE said it objected to a number of provisions, totalling $152.5 billion in cuts to earned federal benefits. These include reducing or eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for current and future retirees; basing pensions for new retirees on the average of the highest five years of salary, instead of the highest three; reducing benefits for workers disabled during service; and combining sick and annual leave into one pool.

Dirty laundry

Jessica Klement, staff vice president, advocacy for the NARFE.

In a separate statement, the National Treasury Employees Union described the measures as a “familiar laundry list of anti-federal employee proposals.”

Partnership for Public Service president and CEO Max Stier said in a statement that the president was right to give performance more weight in pay increases. But he argued that the government must first update its performance management system, and that a pay freeze would hinder recruitment and retainment.

The White House’s annual budget comprises a set of recommendations and estimates, and the president is unable to authorise most of them without Congressional approval. Klement said all the proposed benefits changes require a vote by legislators, with the two most likely vehicles being an infrastructure bill or a budget reconciliation bill; neither, she suggested, is likely to pass under the current Congress.

However, she said that the administration might be able to secure a pay freeze. The progress of similar measures under President Obama suggests that the president might have authority over pay without the need for Congressional approval.

About Tamar Wilner

Tamar Wilner is a Dallas-based journalist and researcher who writes about public policy and the media. She's written extensively on energy, the environment, urban planning and small business for trade publications in the US and UK, and contributes regularly to the Columbia Journalism Review. Find her at @tamarwilner.


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