Federal Union Leader: 2016 GOP Platform ‘A Hostile Takeover of the Civil Service System’

Leader of largest federal employees’ union blasts proposals to cut pay and benefits, privatize government services, and politicize the workforce

AFGE National President J. David Cox, Sr.WASHINGTON – In response to the release of the 2016 Republican Party Platform, J. David Cox, Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees, representing 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees across the country, issued the following statement:

The 2016 Republican Platform makes clear the GOP has moved so close to the extremes that it opposes the very government it seeks to lead. The platform advocates such profound changes to the terms of government employment that, if enacted, it would bring to end the merit-based, apolitical civil service system. Without Constitutional due process rights and free unions to provide accountability and transparency to government employment, government employment would cease to be a professional civil service. What would ensue is quite predictable and occurs wherever there is an absence of the rule of law: a government staffed with cronies and political protectors that will fail to provide quality services to the American people. A spoils system staffed by those hired because who they know, not what they can do.

AFGE_Logo_high+resThe platform’s ignorance and misrepresentation of the facts about federal pay and benefits should be an embarrassment. The truth is that federal pay lags the private sector and state and local governments by an average of 35% according the Federal Salary Council and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And federal benefits only look generous when compared to the shameful practice of private employers who provide nothing or next to nothing for their employees in the way of pensions or insurance. Federal compensation has always been modest, but three years of frozen pay and substantial pension cutbacks enacted over the last several years in the name of deficit reduction have impoverished thousands of federal employees and their families. The notion of dragging a border patrol agent or a VA nursing assistant’s living standards down even lower is despicable.

The Republican platform also shows a horrible irresponsibility for the public interest in its embrace of privatization. Handing over the government’s work to profit-hungry contractors at the expense of public safety and health is a guarantee of scandal. Dismantling the veterans’ health care system by closing down hospitals and clinics and telling veterans to find their own care through a privatized insurance system is a disgraceful and outrageous abrogation of the promise our nation makes to those who have worn our nation’s uniform. Today veterans can walk into any VA hospital and access seamlessly integrated primary/specialty care in addition to financial, educational, housing, vocational, and other benefits. Closing down the VA would mean more than just dangerous degradation in their health care. It would also mean missed opportunities for direct employment and job assistance, obtaining an education, and help with overcoming addiction or homelessness.

The platform’s plan to privatize TSA would also be a dangerous and expensive disaster, throwing away a decade and a half of reliable airport security and returning us the pre-9/11 model that failed to such devastating effect. Instead of dismantling the TSA, the platform should demand that the agency receive the funding and staff it needs to do its jobs safely and efficiently, which a Republican-led Congress has failed to do for years.”


The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

Using Retirement Funds to Balance the Budget

Up here in New Hampshire, we have some experience with politicians trying to use public workers’ retirement funds to balance the budget.

Back when Craig Benson was Governor, he wanted to use money from the public employee retirement system to balance the state budget.

But up here in New Hampshire, the public didn’t let him get away with that.  In 1984, Granite State voters amended our state Constitution to protect our employees’ retirement benefits.  New Hampshire Constitution Article 36-a [Use of Retirement Funds] provides:

“The employer contributions certified as payable to the New Hampshire retirement system … shall be appropriated each fiscal year … All of the assets and proceeds, and income there from, of the New Hampshire retirement system … shall be held, invested or disbursed as in trust for the exclusive purpose of providing for such benefits and shall not be encumbered for, or diverted to, any other purposes.”

Down in Washington DC, the federal government hasn’t been quite so careful.  Down in DC, public employee retirement funds are regularly used to balance the budget.

In fact, when the federal government hit the debt ceiling in May 2011, public employee retirement contributions were used to keep the federal government going for more than two months (until Congressional Republicans finally agreed to increase the debt limit).

At last report,

  • more than $800 billion of the federal debt was owed to the federal employees’ retirement system;
  • more than $600 billion of the federal debt was owed to military employees’ retirement programs;
  • more than $45 billion of the federal debt was owed to the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund.

State and local employees also own a significant chunk of the federal debt.  At last report, pension systems for state and local government employees held almost $190 billion in Treasury securities.

Adding it all up, the nation owes about $1.6 trillion to the various public employees’ retirement systems.  (That’s direct debt – not including unfunded liabilities.)

That’s only slightly more than what tax cuts for the wealthiest 5% have cost the Treasury since 2001.

Should we really be surprised that right-wing Republicans are trying so hard to “reform” public pensions?

The business lobbying group ALEC (“American Legislative Exchange Council”) has led the crusade.  “Taxpayers are no longer willing to bear the increasing cost of these plans… They are demanding reforms that will bring these plans into line with pension and OPEB benefits offered in the private sector.”  (What an interesting comparison!  Federal law generally prohibits private sector pension plans from loaning money to the company that sponsors the plan.)

As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan followed ALEC’s lead – almost word-for-word.

Up here in the Granite State, we believe that government should fulfill the promises it has made to its employees.  We even amended our state constitution to ensure that public employees’ retirement funds would be used only to pay retirement benefits.

It’s time for the country to stop using public employee retirement funds to pay the cost of extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

It’s time for Congressional Republicans to stop trying to weasel out of their obligations to federal employees.

It’s time to keep the country’s promises.  (Now that’s a conservative value.)


Wait!  That $45 billion borrowed from the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund deserves a closer look.

The Post Office is losing money.  Most of that deficit is being caused by Congressionally-mandated payments to the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund.   That mandate dates back to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.

Guess what else happened in 2006?  Just months before Congress decided to have the Postal Service pre-fund retiree benefits (and loan that money to the US Treasury), the country had hit the debt ceiling, and had borrowed from the federal employees’ retirement system to pay the bills.

(No, by the time 2006 rolled around, the Bush tax cuts hadn’t “jump started” the economy or started to erase the federal debt.  So Congress used federal employees’ retirement contributions as a Rainy Day Fund.)

Kind of convenient, isn’t it?  The country needs to borrow money, and suddenly there’s a new Fund to borrow from.

Only now, that Fund is drowning the Postal Service in debt.

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