Virginia Senate candidate George Allen (R) wants to freeze federal hiring, stop automatic pay raises for workers and members of Congress, and ask feds for their help in cutting government spending by promising a one-time “share-in-savings” bonus.
If elected to the Senate, Allen would give feds a cash award if their cost-cutting ideas produce real savings. The idea is similar to the Obama administration’s SAVE Awards, but with money behind it.
Allen’s opponent, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), said cuts to the federal workforce and budget alone would not address the fiscal health of the nation. He does not support the continuation of the federal pay freeze.
Both candidates, vying to win the seat currently held by Sen. Jim Webb (D), are quick to recognize the benefits federal employees and contractors bring to the government.
But political ideology informs their respective views about federal employee issues such as the pay freeze, hiring, retirement benefits and the budget as well as contractor issues such as procurement reform and cuts to the Defense Department.
For instance, Allen calls for management reforms similar to the ones in his Blue Ribbon Strike Force he created while governor of Virginia.
Allen wrote in his Blueprint for America’s Comeback that he wants to “sell unneeded and unused surplus federal property, recognize we are in the Internet age and eliminate wasteful printing and publications across the federal government, cut back the federal government’s fleet of vehicles and civilian aircraft and control to make certain those that remain in the fleet are used only for legitimate business purposes and when most cost-effective.”
Allen also has ideas to reform the federal procurement process. For example, he said on his website the bid-protest cycle should be limited to 60 days to reduce costs. He said agencies could promote more competition by limiting the length of contracts.
Kaine has a different approach. He said he wants to make targeted cuts to federal programs to get the budget deficit under control.
“Given our current budget crisis, we must take significant steps to rein in spending. We should not however, single out federal employees in determining our budget going forward. There are much larger savings to be found elsewhere,” according to an email from Kaine’s campaign. “Because of our current fiscal situation, we must take steps to balance the budget, and it is likely that everyone will have to make sacrifices. But we must acknowledge the value that federal employees provide.”
Kaine also said keeping the Postal Service financially stable is invaluable to the nation. He said Congress should “first look at items like the requirement to pre-fund future retirees’ health benefits as a potential source of funds.”
Maryland Senate race
The race in Maryland for Senate, between incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin (D), Dan Bongino (R) and Independent challenger Rob Sobhani, is not as close according to the latest polls.
But when it comes to issues important to federal workers and contractors, Cardin and Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, share many of the same goals.
Cardin highlights his commitment to federal employees by stopping Congress from raising employee retirement contributions and halting the attempt to add another year to the pay freeze.
“I pledge to you that as member of the U.S. Senate I’m committed to fighting hard to protect federal workers from shouldering the burden of our economic downturn alone,” Cardin said in a recorded video message to the American Federation of Government Employees annual conference in August. “I’m fighting to protect the benefits of federal workers and to put an end to the blame game that targets federal workers for political gain.”
Bongino also said employees should not be used as pawns for political purposes.
“The federal employee … that [sic] gets up in the morning and ties his shoes and puts his work boots on and goes to work is not the problem,” Bongino said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “The problem is budget mismanagement on a grand scale by politicians who have not been responsible with that federal ledger. That’s putting our federal workforce in financial danger.”
He said one big concern is the borrowing against the Federal Employee Retirement System accounts.
“That starts being borrowed against, you have a de facto Social Security system, where your assets are nationalized, borrowed against and spent on. I wouldn’t support that,” he said. “Our employees are not the problem. It’s the mismanagement of the system that is.”
Bongino said federal pay should be competitive in order to attract some of the best and brightest. But at the same time, because of the budget crisis there is a premium for job security.
“We need to have a non-ideological conversation about where we stand. Are the salaries competitive? If they are, that’s great, but we may have to look into in the future some cuts, and I think we can do it best through attrition,” he said. “I don’t think there is any need at this point, and I don’t think we will solve our long terms budget crisis by laying off workers en masse in kind of a machete approach. We will have to look at controlling future hiring and baseline budgeting and overhaul.”
Sobhani said on his site that government should be reduced by cutting programs that don’t work.
“I oppose ‘across the board cuts’ because they too often destroy the very goals we are seeking to achieve,” he said on his campaign site. “Every department’s budget must be reviewed to maximize efficiencies. We must apply both courage and discernment to the urgent mission of reigning in government spending.”
Sequestration top priority
The potentially harmful impact sequestration would have on feds and vendors alike is another topic where there is widespread recognition, but little agreement among the candidates.
“The No. 1 thing that needs to be done is stopping these Defense cuts, which are threatening over 200,000 jobs in Virginia with that deal, which my opponent Tim Kaine, continues to say is the right thing to do, and to me it’s so wrong to use the men and women of our armed forces and these jobs as political bargaining chip to raise taxes on job creating small businesses,” Allen said.
Kaine said on WTOP later in the day that sequestration is all about compromise.
“On fixing the budget, is it taking out the meat axe and just cutting everything or is it finding that mixture of revenue and cuts-probably two or three dollars of cuts for every dollar of revenue?” Kaine said. “I’m advocating letting the Bush tax cuts expire over $500,000. That would produce some revenue and dramatically reduce the need for cuts. We still will have to find some cuts, but we could make them precise rather than just blunt axe.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.