Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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Feds need to go viral

We saw a political cartoon lately that boiled down the current benefits debate to its bare bones. In it, a private-sector worker points at a public-sector worker and says: “I don’t have a pension, so you shouldn't have one either!”

In the next panel, he says the same about health care coverage. And so on.

And that is, in fact, the very argument currently being used to wield the ax that is hacking away at the benefits of public-sector employees.

For example, here is the rhetoric meant for public consumption that was used recently by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in introducing the Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act of 2011 that would end the Federal Employees Retirement System defined benefit pension for new hires:

“We cannot ask taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for public employee benefits that are far more generous than their own.”

That statement is not unique to this bill. It seems to be everywhere these days. PR types call it messaging. And in tough economic times, it’s a message that’s gone viral at every level of government.

Feds obviously need their own messaging. The next time some “taxpayer” uses the “benefits are too generous” line, maybe try this:

First, just to get it out of the way, remind the person that you pay taxes, too. Then remind the person that when you buy a car, purchase insurance, or pick up a gallon of milk, you’re paying for the salary and benefits of the autoworkers who built that car, the agent who sold that insurance and the farmer who milked that cow. And you’re not begrudging them a decent retirement.

And if they say, “but that’s different,” ask them: “How?”

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Mar 23, 2011 at 4:02 PM


Reader comments

Wed, Mar 30, 2011 presskh Huntsville alabama

Agree with Paul. I hired in to the Federal Govt. as an engineer when times were good in private, back in the 1980's when Reagan was building up the military. I hired in for about 20% less pay and much less generous health benefits than my counterparts did coming out of college who went with private employers. True, our pension benefits were greater, but we paid in 7% of our salary (CSRS), while pension benefits in private corporations were totally free! And we did enjoy better vacation days if we stuck with the government long-term. Back in those days, our agency went begging for engineers, most who wouldn't consider govt. employment due to the pay and promotion potential disparity. So now, all of a sudden after all these years, I am labeled "grossly" overpaid and my promised pension benefits are seen as totally "excessive". Good times, as well as bad times, come and go - it is very short-sighted to cut government worker compensation in "bad" times, since they never quite catch back up in "good" times and the government will then have a very difficult time hiring good talent.

Sun, Mar 27, 2011 dB Virginia Beach

The real substance of the federal benefits issue is not what federal workers have, but what the private sector lacks - reliable pensions, reasonable health care coverage, and steady jobs. Fed benefits are a reminder of what private industry standards used to be. As long as company execs command their generous salaries/benefits, golden parachutes, etc, and continue to reduce general workforce benefits, fed benefits will continue to be a target since they flag a failure in our economy. Our children are seeing less benefits than we enjoyed. What is being done to fix that?

Sat, Mar 26, 2011 Julia Arlington, Virginia

I agree with the idea of proposing the Congressional Reform Act of 2011. I would revise numbers 4, 6 and 9 to say: 4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans should. 6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the other Federal employees. And we open up the OPM approved health care plans to employers and self-employed individuals who are the American people. [These are good plans, we should share them. This also helps the American people see that Federal employee actually pay for the services.] 9. Each member is personally fined $1000.00 a day for each day the budget is not passed. He/she cannot pay it from their office budget.

Sat, Mar 26, 2011 Beth Alexandria

I applaud the current Director of OMB for thinking he can move to a two-year budget cycle. But to do that we need to eliminate the sheer number of Congressional appropriation committees. As long as these quasi-political action appropriation committee’s exist, we cannot begin: - restructuring the Executive Branch - moving to a two-year budget cycle - reigning in the 40+ different definitions for a native tribe that multiple committees create year after year to protect a new special group - eliminating grants for stupid and hopeless projects like the bridge to nowhere, the Cowboy Poetry festival, or giving someone 30K a year to walk the beach in a Caribbean island to pick up trash or studying how to eliminate the Fruit Fly on the Big Island of Hawaii - removing or denying earmarks (most of which emanate from the White House) Their power comes from making the budget and doing it annually. What would they do with a whole year off? (Here’s an idea: how about get a job back in their home state and earn some money?)

Sat, Mar 26, 2011 Ann Virginia

Yes I pay taxes, but not Social Security (I am a CSRS employee). I started paying into my own Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) in the 1980’s because I was told then I need to save for my own retirement. I lived within my means, and when necessary I got a second job on weekends. If the Congress puts an end to the FERS retirement contribution (isn’t this what we are really talking about?) The TSP (with matching funds) IS the FERS employee retirement. If this happens, people will still come to work for the Government because it can be a security blanket for poor performers. And as a manager in an agency, this prospect scares me to death. So what if taxpayer funds were only to be used for agency program operation and not employee ‘perks’? This does not negate the fact the private company employees need to do their own planning and saving for their own futures. No one seems to want to address the sad facts staring us in the face…we are not making tough decisions to save money inside the Government. Anyone reading this knows of at least three federal employees in an agency or bureau that they call “teflon” because they sued the Government somewhere along in their careers and won; or got a lawyer on retainer and now no one in Human Resources or in an Office of General Counsel will assert any pressure on them to work or in one case I know of, clean out an office that has actually been declared a fire hazard by the Fire Marshall. One person in our agency is hiding in the Civilian Employee Assistance Program (CEAP) and has been through a formal (out-of-the-office) alcohol rehabilitation program FIVE times. In another agency a lady was still coming to work who was over 90 years old and slept at her desk most of the day. Of course no one wanted to wake her up only to find out she might be dead. And when she was awake she read the newspaper. [Shhhh… Don’t tell anyone but there are a lot of people sitting behind their desks reading the news at work!] How about the lawyer earning over 200K who “needed" to watch pornography for 8 hours using his work computer "to relax“? I could go on and on… We need the ability to let people go who are clearly and without question not performing their jobs.

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