Government affairs

Legislative Updates

Five immediate threats to federal employees in 2017

With Congress and the White House in Republican control, the GOP is preparing to pursue an aggressive agenda against federal employees during the 115th Congress. Fortunately, NALC will be playing a larger role in the Federal-Postal Coalition, which represents 2 million civil servants from 30 organizations, by leading the coalition.

Based on what we know and have seen so far, there are at least five areas of concern for 2017:

1. Shrinking the federal workforce. President-elect Donald Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter,” which outlines proposals for his first 100 days in office, promises to immediately to reduce the size of the federal workforce by implementing a hiring freeze and by not filling vacancies. While it’s unclear how this would affect letter carriers and the U.S. Postal Service, it remains an obvious concern. This promise goes hand-in-hand with what lawmakers have planned. The House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee has indicated that a top priority in 2017 will be making it easier to fire “bad apples” in the federal workforce. Since 2009, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has called for across-the-board workforce reductions.

2. Reducing pay. In its first week of business, the House of Representatives passed a rules package that reinstated the “Holman Rule,” allowing for amendments to appropriations bills that would eliminate federal agencies, cut salaries and even terminate particular federal employees and eliminate positions. In addition, the GOP’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposed cutting civil servants’ pay by $318 billion. Lawmakers are going after the what they call “overcompensation” as a way to reduce the federal debt, despite the fact that $182 billion in deficit reduction savings has already been made on the backs of federal employees, thanks to past cuts made by Congress.

3. Shifting benefit contributions to workers. The 2016 budget, prepared by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), suggested forcing federal employees to pay an additional 6 percent of their salaries toward their retirement benefits without a corresponding increase in pay or benefits. This increase follows previous increases from the “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012” and from the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013,” which, combined, forced new employees to contribute between 3 and 4 percent more toward their health and retirement accounts without any pay increase or additional benefits.

4. Shutting down union business. Eight bills in the 114th Congress—H.R. 4392, H.R. 3600, H.Amdt. 149, H.Amdt. 646, H.R. 1658, H.R. 1658, H.R. 4361 and H.R. 6278—attempted to strip union-represented federal employees of the right official time (i.e., when union representatives represent their co-workers on government time). In fact, last February, Chaffetz sent several heads of federal agencies letters requesting the names, titles and salary grades of any employees who had used official time.

5. Chipping away retirement security. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) has often been proposed to serve as a kind of “piggy bank” for infrastructure and other spending, and we’re likely to see similar proposals resurface in the 115th Congress. In fact, the GOP’s 2016 budget would have raided nearly $32 billion from the TSP’s G Fund by reducing the rate of return on that fund’s investments. Under a previous proposal from the OGR Committee in the 114th Congress, new employees would be given a market-driven 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

Meanwhile, Speaker Ryan has suggested that he intends to use any momentum built up by attempts to repeal Obamacare to privatize Medicare, turning the entitlement program into a voucher system.

Stay alert and ready. NALC anticipates a very busy year for defending federal employees. Letter carriers should remain ready to respond to any legislation targeting civil servants.

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