House GOP, federal unions spar over workforce cuts

House Republicans hope to reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent to help save $375 billion by 2015, but the largest federal employee union claims lawmakers are basing their figures on faulty calculations.

The government would hire one employee for every three retiring workers under the fiscal 2012 budget framework that Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released last week. The proposal also freezes federal salaries through 2015 and requires employees to pay for half of their defined benefit pension.

"The reforms called for in this budget aim to slow the federal government's unsustainable growth, and reflect the growing frustration of workers across the country at the different set of rules enjoyed by government employees," reads Ryan's "Path to Prosperity." "It reduces the public-sector bureaucracy, not through layoffs, but via a gradual, sensible attrition policy, permitting the federal government to hire only one new employee for every three federal workers who retire."

The proposal claims that the salaries of federal employees "far eclipse" those in the private sector. But in a statement today, the American Federation of Government Employees argues that Ryan is comparing the average federal salary to the median household income of Americans.

"Paul Ryan isn't just comparing apples to oranges; he's comparing a single apple to a basket full of oranges," AFGE President John Gage said. "It's rotten any way you slice it."


Ryan's budget reflects Republicans' recent calls for downsizing the federal government and decreasing employee pay. Disagreements abound on whether federal workers are overpaid or underpaid; the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims they earn as much as 24 percent less than their private-sector counterparts, while some studies report that federal salaries are significantly higher.

In his proposal, Ryan refers to the "explosive growth" of bureaucracy, pointing to the addition of 155,000 workers since President Obama took office. That growth has hampered private-sector employment because of the taxes necessary to keep the government running, Republicans argue.

Gage called this "nonsensical," claiming that most of those hires were in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.

"It's a shameful attack on federal workers," Gage said, "who were not the cause of this massive budget deficit and can't be the cure."

Referencing the "sacrifices" necessary in a recession, Obama enacted a two-year pay freeze in January, but GOP lawmakers have said that it is inadequate since it does not include bonuses or the "step increases" within employees' General Schedule level. Ryan's budget would extend the freeze by three years.

It would also target the Federal Employee Pension Plan, which critics have called overgenerous. A recent joint study from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation found that the government offers much better benefits than the private sector. A big part of that is the defined benefit pension, which guarantees a certain payout upon retirement. Employers in the private sector often only offer matching contributions to a 401(k) plan.

Federal employees now contribute 0.8 percent of payroll to their pension plan. Ryan's budget would increase their contribution to half of the defined benefit they receive at retirement.

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