Fedweek

A House hearing on the Trump administration’s budgetary and management plans for the federal workforce underscored how difficult it could be to achieve agreement on any proposals requiring approval of Congress, with both parties focusing on portions of special interest to them.

At an Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing whose stated topic was the federal “workforce for the 21st century,” Democrats instead pressed senior administration officials on budgetary proposals to increase employee contributions toward retirement and to reduce the value of retirement benefits in several ways. The administration recently sent proposed legislative language to carry out those changes, projecting a cost to employees and retirees of more than $143 billion over 10 years.

Democrats held that amount up in contrast to the request for $1 billion to be used to reward top performers and pay recruitment and retention incentives in hard to fill positions.

OPM director Jeff Pon and OMB deputy director for management Margaret Weichert supported the budgetary proposals as part of the administration’s overall spending priorities and cited a 2017 CBO report finding federal benefits, especially retirement, are overall superior to the private sector’s. They said the annual federal employee survey shows strong interest in strengthening the link between pay and performance and that employees in general are satisfied with their salaries.

On policy matters, several Democrats focused on the potential for job cuts through agency reorganizations and greater automation, two elements of the President’s Management Agenda. Other areas of interest to them included unfilled positions at the FLRA, the agency that enforces union rights, and the VA’s use of enhanced disciplinary authority—widely considered a model for wider application as part of any overhaul of civil service policies—disproportionately against lower-level employees.

Several Republicans meanwhile showed that their highest priorities include holding employees accountable for poor performance or misconduct and reducing spending on “official time,” on-the-clock time that can be used for certain union duties. Pon said that OPM should have more authority over labor-management contracts and that current law makes it unnecessarily difficult for agencies to “manage people out.” He said that employee due process rights could still be protected in a shortened process.