Federal workers have a message for the White House: Keep your hands off my retirement benefits.
Already enduring a two-year pay freeze in the name of deficit reduction, federal employees are now facing cuts to their generous retirement packages — a possible outcome of bipartisan debt talks led by Vice president Joe Biden.
“Federal workers need to be part of the dialogue, but they can’t be on the receiving end of every proposal,” said Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, who represents many government employees.
At least one union has held discussions in recent days with officials from the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management about changes to pensions.
Federal workers have faced a whirlwind of change — and not much of it good — in just a few months. President Obama requested, and Congress approved, a two-year pay freeze late last year.
“Frankly, I was chagrined to see, that of all the [deficit reduction] proposals, the only one President Obama chose to single out last year was the one to freeze pay for federal employees,” Connolly said.
Lawmakers then brought the government to the brink of a shutdown, which would have left some workers sitting at home with no pay. Now facing another period of uncertainty, workers are feeling picked on.
Officials from the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union told reporters Wednesday that cuts to pensions would affect recruiting efforts and demoralize the workforce.
Connolly called the plans an “unprecedented assault on the federal worker.”
The White House declined to comment.
The details being discussed by Biden’s group have not been made public, even though proposals for how to reduce debt have been floating around Washington for months.
Last December, the president’s fiscal commission described federal and military pensions as “out of line” with private sector benefits packages, and recommended changes that would save $70 billion over ten years.
For example, it proposed changing the formula for how pensions are calculated. The panel also suggested cutting back on cost of living adjustments for current retirees.
But the bulk of the savings under the commission’s plan — $51 billion through 2020 — would be achieved by asking employees to kick in more to fund their pension plans.
“I think everybody is prepared to do their fair share,” Connolly said. “But it has to be a fair sacrifice.”
Charles Riley, On Wednesday May 18, 2011, 4:36 pm EDT
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