NPR National Public Radio: Politics
Federal Employees Face Cuts To Retirement Benefits And Pay Freezes
Listen· 3:54 minutes
May 9, 2018
Heard on All Things Considered
Federal employees can be forgiven for feeling whiplashed by the Trump administration.
The president has proclaimed this to be Public Service Recognition week, acknowledging the nations' civil servants for "their hard work and willingness to serve their fellow citizens."
A group of outstanding federal workers was recognized at a breakfast this week, sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service. Among the workers was Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, a 37-year employee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who now works in autism research. She said she has had a rewarding career working for the government.
"I love CDC," Yeargin-Allsopp said. "I love public health. I love the fact that I think we make a difference."
"We're not doing a great job of attracting young people to government," said Thomas Ross, president of the Volcker Alliance, a nonprofit group working to overhaul the civil service system. "We need to do that, because the workforce is aging — 41 percent of the federal workforce is eligible to retire in five years. So we're going to have a crisis."
But coming to work for the federal government can be a difficult sale to make these days. Trump implemented a temporary hiring freeze last year and is proposing a pay freeze for next year.
Plus, there's all that rhetoric about "draining the swamp" and the evils of the administrative state. For a 22-year-old graduating from college, it's not a great pitch.
"I turn on the news, and I'm hearing about how federal employees don't take care of their veterans," said Jessica Klement, vice president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. "My member of Congress is talking about lazy bureaucrats in Washington and draining the swamp. Is this a workforce I'm stepping into? Maybe, maybe not."
Klement agrees there are changes needed in rules that are now 40 years old that govern federal employees' pay and job classifications. It was designed in an era when clerks and clerical workers, not professionals, dominated the government.
But Klement said the administration could make other changes if it wants to operate more like the private sector.
"It's far past time for the federal government to offer things like paid parental leave," she said, "which they currently do not, which is commonplace in large private sector companies."
While there's agreement that change is needed, it's not clear how much will take place this year, when Congress has other things on its mind, like the midterm elections.