Kelley Warns of Serious Negative Effects From Deficit Commission Proposals


12/3/10: A package of proposals recently voted on by the 18 members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility would have a devastating impact on the ability of the federal workforce to provide the services Americans need and expect, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley said today.

President Kelley said the final proposals regarding federal workers advanced by the commission’s co-chairs “start from the flawed premise that federal agencies can use fewer resources to accomplish existing goals without risking a decline in essential services.”

She took issue with the proposals of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles to impose a three-year freeze on federal pay; reduce the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent; make significant detrimental changes in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP); and change the benefit calculation formula for new civil service retirees.

“These are draconian measures that would seriously impede the ability of federal employees to perform their missions,” President Kelley said.

For example, she noted that since the start of the prolonged economic downturn Social Security claims and disability appeals have skyrocketed by some 53 percent—to more than 850,000. Wait times for disability claim adjudication—a critical factor in the lives of disability claimants—declined from 532 days in August 2008 to 377 days last October. “Cutting personnel likely will halt that progress,” she said.

President Kelley also noted that such crucial homeland security agencies as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) already face a lack of adequate staffing. “At TSA staffing levels are so low that baggage personnel are routinely pulled off the line to help screen passengers at the checkpoints when lines get long. This leaves baggage dangerously understaffed,” she said.

Just yesterday, the NTEU leader pointed out, the Senate acted to provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with significant new responsibilities under the Food Safety Modernization Act. This will require additional resources and personnel, she said, noting that consistent inadequate funding for this important agency has resulted in a sharp decline in food safety inspections to only some 7,500 last year from 35,000 in 1978. What’s more, she said, FDA’s Medical Device Center personnel have declined from 1,450 in 2003 to just 1,350 last year. Staffing would again take a hard hit if a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce is put in place.

As for a proposal to turn the FEHBP into a defined contribution premium support plan, President Kelley said NTEU adamantly opposes any effort to replace FEHBP with a voucher system that will not keep up with medical inflation and requires people to shop for their own health coverage. “This is a bad idea and a disservice to the 8 million federal employees, retirees and their families currently enrolled in FEHBP,” President Kelley said.

If the Simpson-Bowles proposals were implemented, they would have far-reaching negative effects, Kelley said, including “an unprecedented exodus” from federal service of experienced, skilled employees, taking with them invaluable institutional knowledge.

Instead, she said, “We need to recruit and retain talented and experienced employees to effectively deal with the many serious challenges our nation faces.” In urging members of the commission to reject these proposals, the NTEU leader warned that approval would “make it impossible to have the kind of workforce the country needs at this critical juncture.”

Fourteen of the 18 members of this body, known as the deficit commission, were required to vote to approve the package before it could be forwarded to Congress for consideration. The final vote was 11 for, and 7 against.

President Kelley also noted that federal employees already face a White House proposal for a two-year pay freeze, an idea NTEU is strongly opposing.