President Obama announced today a two-year freeze on pay for all federal civilian employees. According to a press statement issued by the White House, the pay freeze for 2011 and 2012 will save $2 billion in 2011 and $28 billion over the next five years. The pay freeze will cover civilian employees of all federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, but will not apply to military personnel. The announcement noted the important services provided by federal employees and stated the reason for the move “is not to punish federal workers or to disrespect the work they do.” Rather, the White House said it is one of a series of actions, requiring “some sacrifice from all of us," designed to cut government costs and reduce the deficit ($1.3 trillion in FY2010). Federal pay has come under increasing scrutiny during the year as the economy has struggled to recover and the national civilian unemployment rate has hovered close to 10 percent. Critics, citing studies that show average federal salaries higher than their private sector counterparts, have called for pay freezes and even pay cuts for federal civilian employees. The Directors of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and OMB have argued that these studies do not fairly compare public and private sector jobs. They point out that average salaries are often misleading because the federal workforce is more educated and experienced and tends to be concentrated in high-cost urban areas. The president in February proposed a 1.4 percent civilian pay raise in his FY2011 budget. Numerous attempts to freeze federal pay in Congress this year have failed, but so far only the Senate Appropriations Committee has supported the president's budget request. Now that the president is calling for a pay freeze, Congress is less likely to support a pay raise this year. And the situation for federal civilian employees may not be any better next year. The changed political landscape on the Hill and continued sluggish economic recovery means that it is likely that the 112th Congress (convening in January) will consider more severe reductions to the FY2012 federal budget.
Archive for November, 2010
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is moving aggressively to implement its plan to reform how the federal government buys and uses Information Technology (IT). Last week OMB issued an progress update on the plan. OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients, in a blog posted on OMB’s website, called closing the technology gap between the public and private sectors “one of the most effective ways we can make government work more effectively and efficiently for the American people.” Zients said federal IT projects for years have been over budget, behind schedule, or have not delivered what they promised. The three-pronged strategy for IT reform, begun this summer, includes : 1) review high priority IT modernization projects; 2) stop new work on financial system modernization projects pending OMB review and approval; and 3) develop a new strategy to change how the federal government acquires and uses IT. Zients reports that the review of high priority projects is ongoing and some nonperforming projects have been terminated. The review of financial system projects is complete and steps are being taken to achieve budget savings of up to $1.6 billion: Some projects have been changed, some cancelled, and others have been reduced in scope, with more action to come. Zients also described the elements of the new strategy on buying and using IT. To eliminate structural disconnects in the government’s IT acquisition process, the new strategy will align the budget and acquisition process with the technology cycle. It will strengthen program management by creating a career track for program managers and only approve IT projects that have effective program management teams. It will streamline governance and increase accountability by revamping investment review boards. The strategy will increase engagement with the IT community by actively working with industry and removing communication barriers. Finally, the strategy will adopt light technologies and shared solutions by reducing the government’s data centers by 40 percent by 2015 and going to a cloud-first policy in the FY2012 budget process.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus named Terry Halvorsen to be its new Chief Information Officer (CIO). As the Navy’s CIO, Halvorsen will be the senior official on Information Management and Information Technology (IT)/cyberspace and will develop strategies, plans, policies, and standards for these areas. According to the Navy announcement, he will also serve as the DoD Cyber/IT Workforce Community Leader, Critical Infrastructure Assurance Advisor, and Senior Military Component Official for Privacy. Halvorsen has been serving as the Deputy Commander, Navy Cyber forces since January 2010. Prior to that post, he was the Deputy Commander, Naval Network Warfare Command, which is responsible for network, space, and information operations, and knowledge management support for Navy’s ships and some 800,000 computer network users. Halvorsen began his civilian federal and Navy service in 1985 as the Curriculum Instructional Standards Officer for Navy Cryptology Training at Corry Station, Florida. He held numerous training positions in the Navy before becoming the Executive Director, Naval Personnel Development Command, which oversees all Navy individual training, and in 2006 became the Acting Director, Naval Education and Training Command. Halvorsen’s military service included a variety of intelligence assignments as an officer in the U.S. Army.
Last week the House passed the Telework Enhancement Act (H.R. 1722) and sent it to the president for signature. The bill, which has been winding its way through Congress for much of this year, expands federal teleworking opportunities government-wide. It requires agencies to develop a teleworking policy and identify employees eligible to participate. Not every employee would be eligible under the legislation. Except in emergency situations, the bill would exempt employees whose official duties require, on a daily basis, the direct handling of secure materials or involve an on-site activity that cannot be performed remotely. The bill also gives agencies the authority to conduct telework travel expenses tests to pay travel expenses for teleworking employees who are required to report to the office more than a set number of times. Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA), an advocate for telework legislation for 20 years, stated in a press release that the bill is a “cost savings measure that will help the federal government implement a flexible workplace strategy proven successful in the private sector.” This legislation has been strongly supported by federal employee organizations and the White House, and the president is expected to sign it quickly.
One week into the “lame duck” session after the elections, Congress has made little progress on its major legislative issues. To be sure some votes were taken, but the results were mixed. The House passed the final telework bill and sent it to the president for signature. The Senate confirmed Jacob Lew to be Director of OMB. However, the House failed in its attempt to pass an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of the year. There has been a lot of behind the scenes discussion regarding the FY2011 appropriations bills, but not much in the way of formal action. None of the twelve appropriations bills have cleared Congress and much of the talk has centered around the possibility of passing a single omnibus appropriations bill for FY2011. However, it remains uncertain whether or not Congress can pass some form of an omnibus bill before adjournment. If not, it will most likely either extend the Continuing Resolution (CR), which runs out December 3, and renew consideration early next year, or pass a CR for the entire fiscal year. There was also much discussion this week by the White House and the Congress on how to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts beyond Dec. 31. But again, there was no movement on actual legislation. There is a glimmer of hope regarding the FY2011 Defense Authorization bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (N-NV) announced this week he will bring the bill to the Senate floor in December. The House passed its version of the bill in May. The Senate, after the Senate Armed Services Committee reported a bill in May, has not been able to move to a final vote on the floor. The major stumbling block to a final Senate vote is proposed language to repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving in the military. Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) continue to actively oppose the policy change and have said they would move to stop action on the bill if it includes repeal language. In non-legislative action, House Republicans and Democrats did elect their leaders for the 112th Congress, which convenes in January. The Republican caucus, as expected, elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to be the new Speaker of the House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to be the House Majority Leader, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to be House Majority Whip (chiefly responsible for lining up votes on legislation). House Democrats elected former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be the House Minority Leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) the new House Minority Whip, and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) to the new position of Assistant Minority Leader. Senate leadership will not change for the 112th Congress. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will be the Senate Majority Leader and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will be the #2 and #3 ranking Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will continue as Senate Minority Leader along with Sen. John Kyle (R-AZ) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in the Republican #2 and #3 positions. Today Congress began a week-long recess for Thanksgiving and will return Monday, Nov. 29th. Highlights will continue to provide up-to-date reporting on congressional action until it adjourns at the end of the year.