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Happy Public Service Recognition Week. Now let's overhaul.

The first full week of May is Public Service Recognition Week, which honors federal, state, county and local government workers nationwide. Thank you for your hard work throughout the year. Many public sector employees find their work satisfying and rewarding, and we hope our readers do, too.

At a recent town hall on civil service, however, the director of the Office of Personnel Management outlined some changes to federal employment the Trump administration has proposed. First, the administration has proposed a salary freeze beginning next year. Second, it is considering cutting $143.5 billion in federal retirement benefits. Finally, a broader overhaul of the civil service laws is being considered.

"I don't believe we should look at a federal job for 30 years and then retire and then have lifetime retirement anymore," the OPM's director said at the town hall, which was sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and the Volcker Alliance.

The administration hasn't offered specific details on what it would like to change about public sector work other than it be less permanent and offer lower retirement benefits.

Civil service employee groups are concerned about the proposed pay freeze, benefit cuts and other potential changes. The American Federation of Government Employees called the proposed benefit cuts "shameful" after releasing a letter describing some potential cuts the OPM's director wants Congress to consider. The described retirement benefit cuts include:

  • Eliminating Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS) annuity supplements
  • Increasing the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and FERS average pay period to five years
  • Increasing employee deduction rates to increase workers' contributions to FERS from an average of 0.08 percent of their basic pay to 7.25 percent
  • Reducing or eliminating retirement cost-of-living adjustments

According to the letter, the cuts are motivated by the fact that private companies are reducing their retirement benefits overall, including shifting away from defined benefit programs and cost-of-living adjustments.

One area where there seems to be broad agreement is the difficulty of attracting younger workers to federal jobs. Not only has there been a temporary hiring freeze and a proposed pay freeze but there has also been a great deal of negative rhetoric around civil service.

Whether or not the federal government should attempt to be more like the private sector, new workers do need to be hired. As the president of the Volcker Alliance notes, 41 percent of all federal employees will be eligible to retire within five years.

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