The political debate over whether the federal workforce is paid too much or too little has been rekindled in the last several days since Republicans in Congress have proposed extending the pay freeze on federal civilian employees to aid in covering the cost of extending the payroll tax cuts. The idea is not off of the table yet
Federal unions have decried the proposal. In a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Federal Postal Coalition members are urging the House members to reject a pay freeze or staffing reductions as part of the solution for paying for the Social Security payroll tax cut extension since the House will not be voting on the issue until next week.
“We urge you to avoid singling out this small group of workers to pay for a tax cut for all other workers,” wrote the Coalition members.
The letter also calls for providing a tax credit “equal to the payroll tax holiday to those workers who do not participate in Social Security.” Presumably, this is referring to CSRS employees.
On the other end of the spectrum, Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics at The Heritage Foundation, James Sherk, said that the Republicans’ approach to funding the payroll tax cut extension has some merit since “the recession has largely bypassed the federal government,” noting that “the federal bureaucracy has swelled over 10 percent while the average federal employee earns more than he or she would in the private sector.”
However, Sherk says that the GOP solution is too broad because some federal employees are underpaid, whereas others are vastly overpaid, and the pay freeze penalizes all of them, perhaps unfairly in some cases.
Instead, Sherk argues that what is really valuable in federal employment is the job security. He says that Congress should consider making federal employees who want job security pay for it. “Congress should give federal employees who pass their probationary year a choice: They can continue as at-will employees whose managers can easily remove them for poor performance, or they can buy job security through payroll deductions,” writes Sherk.
The debate over the topic is likely to continue at least until next week when the House is scheduled to take a vote to extend the payroll tax cut. However, taking into account the growing federal deficit, the fact that 2012 is an election year, and the number of cost cutting proposals involving the federal workforce, it is likely that debates over cutting federal pay and/or the federal workforce will continue to crop up at least until the Presidential election.