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No way to run a business, or the government

As Congress returns to Washington from its two-week hiatus, members will turn their attention to resolving the differences between the House and Senate budget plans. If an agreement can be reached, Budget Committee leaders will likely pride themselves on meeting deadlines and boast of their ability to “keep the trains running on time.”  I fail to take solace in that achievement, particularly when that train is headed for derailment.  

Imagine this scenario: The chairman of the board of a large disease prevention and biomedical research company calls a meeting of all employees. 

{mosads}The chairman says, “Colleagues, I am amazed at the work we do. I saw us tackle the Ebola crisis, find breakthroughs in cancer treatment and provide the incubator investments to just about every promising drug of the future. Productivity is up. Congratulations.” 

“In recognition of your hard work and contributions to this country, the board of directors has voted to make some changes in your compensation and benefits: 

“We are going to increase your contributions toward your retirement pension with no increase in benefits, so your paycheck will be reduced. Next, we are going to increase your share of your health insurance premiums while providing you no better coverage, so your paycheck will be reduced even further. As for your 401(k), we are going to reduce the return on your safest investment and take $32 billion out of your retirement nest egg over the next 10 years so that we can take credit for ‘tightening our belts.’ Finally, we are going to decrease the workforce by 10 percent.” 

While such a scenario would never play out in the private sector, this is all too true for the federal government, whose “board” is comprised of the 535 members of Congress. We often hear politicians say they want to run the government more like a business. This is no way to run a business, much less the federal government. 

Business leaders understand they cannot achieve their goals and compete without employing top talent. Treating employees with dignity and respect, as well as providing fair pay and benefits, are the keys to accomplishing this. 

Yet, Congress routinely vilifies its employees as underworked and overpaid, shuts down the government and asks them to work without pay. And now, Congress is proposing unprecedented cutbacks in pay, benefits and jobs, after three years of frozen wages and furloughs due to shortsighted sequestration cuts. 

Every American should be concerned about the impact of these budget proposals. Better employees provide a better return on your taxpayer dollars. Just because an idea saves money does not make it a good idea. 

Today, the federal deficit is the smallest it has been as a share of GDP in a decade. There are fewer federal employees in the executive branch than there were in 1966. Today, the world is a different and more dangerous place. This is not the time to engage in a “race to the bottom” by driving our current employees into retirement or employment elsewhere, and handicapping our efforts to compete for the best and brightest new employees.  

History has proven that when you cut back on staffing levels, the work does not get done.  When you downsize the government and furlough federal workers, the American people are not well-served and blame the rank and file for the delay and inconvenience resulting from the actions of Congress. I view these actions as a breach of the public trust and fiduciary responsibility of our elected representatives. 

The policies this Congress is pursuing are not good for any business, and they certainly are not good for America. 

Thissen is president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.


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