Sequester Funding Cuts Limit Recruitment and Retention Efforts

Washington, D.C.—Federal agencies find it hard to recruit and retain talented employees because they don’t get enough funding from Congress, the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) told a Senate panel today.

The General Schedule (GS) allows agencies to offer performance awards, bonuses, merit raises and use other tools to hire and keep talented workers, NTEU National President Tony Reardon told the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“We do not believe the problem is the GS system, but the lack of agency use of existing pay flexibilities. Agencies must receive proper levels of funding to be able to use these flexibilities, or they merely exist on paper,” President Reardon said.

Reardon urged Congress to focus on closing the gap between federal and private-sector pay and on giving federal agencies the funding they need to fulfill their missions.

After freezing federal pay in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Congress approved raises of 1 percent for each of the next two years—well below the amounts called for under the law, Reardon said. He pointed to Department of Labor data showing that private-sector wages have risen by 8.3 percent in the last five years while federal pay has gone up by 2 percent.

Reardon advocated for pay legislation sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), which would give federal employees an across-the-board raise of 3.8 percent in 2016.

“No employer can expect to recruit and retain a professional and skilled workforce while failing to keep up with general pay trends,” Reardon said. “It is simply a myth that the GS system does not allow agencies to reward high performance or respond to a changing recruitment and retention environment, but these … pay tools are just not being used enough. And the primary reason for that is a lack of funding.”

Reardon applauded Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) for her efforts on behalf of the federal workforce, including her work to narrow the federal-private pay gap that has grown wider in recent years due to the oil and natural gas boom in her state. Among the federal employees affected are NTEU-represented Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel.

The NTEU leader thanked Heitkamp and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) for their attention to CBP issues on the Northern Border, a remote region where recruiting and retaining workers is often challenging. About 300 front-line CBP personnel work in an area stretching from Pembina to Portal along North Dakota’s border with Canada. Some of NTEU’s CBP members recently met with Sen. Tester in Sweetgrass, Mont.

“We greatly appreciate your willingness to explore with us ways to make pay in these regions more competitive, including the potential use of either special pay rates or recruitment and retention bonuses,” President Reardon said.