BY QUIN HILLYER , Center for Individual Freedom
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27 2011
No good reason exists, none whatsoever, for Congress’ budgetary “supercommittee” to fail to identify at least $1.2 trillion in ten-year cuts without raising taxes. Wisconsin’s freshman Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson alone has recommended ways to save $1.4 trillion over ten years just by more sensible management of the federal workforce. Almost all of Sen. Johnson’s recommendations are eminently reasonable.
Johnson’s plan contains 58 separate proposals for savings. Let’s just take the 12 easiest to understand. For instance:
Cut the federal workforce by 15 percent through 2015 and freeze pay for federal civilian employees through 2015. Since Barack Obama took office, the feds have added 192,000 jobs. About 400,000 federal civilian employees are now eligible for retirement. If just over half of them retire without replacement, the workforce reduction will be achieved. Meanwhile, total compensation for government workers is more than 30 percent higher than compensation for comparable private-sector jobs. A three-year pay freeze (not including raises for promotions) is surely reasonable. Savings: $248 billion.
Reduce the government’s “match” for the Federal Employee Retirement System’s defined benefit plan. This will blow your mind: Right now the government provides about $14 in “matching funds” for every dollar contributed by the employee. In the private sector, and even in Social Security and the federal thrift savings investment plan, the usual match is 1-to-1. FERS also should reduce its match to 1-to-1.Savings: $133.27 billion.
Phase out the FERS Basic Benefit Plan. The basic plan, says Johnson, “is no longer comparable to private sector retirement plans that afford greater flexibility and cost savings through 401(k) and stock option plans.” Anybody already in the system can remain, but Johnson would close it as an option for new federal employees. Savings: $75 billion.
Change the calculation of the baseline for FERS basic benefits. The retirement benefit formula now is based on the three highest-salaried years of an employee’s tenure. Most state governments and private plans base their benefits on the average of the five highest years instead, which tends to be lower. The feds should do the same. Savings: $5 billion.
Freeze bonus pay for the Senior Executive Service for three years. These professionals already rank high on the federal pay scale, and the perks are excellent. In a time of busted budgets, it makes sense to eliminate bonuses, just as happens in the private sector during bad times. Johnson claims savings of $50 billion; perhaps it might make sense to allow small bonuses to encourage excellent work, so let’s cut this estimate by just a tad. Savings: $40 billion.
Cut the federal civilian travel budget by 75 percent. Ever heard of teleconferencing, or Skype? Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, has detailed the reasons this is a reasonable reform in his publication “Back in Black.” Savings: $43.3 billion.
Change the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for the Civil Service Retirement System. This change, often suggested for programs throughout government, would adjust payments based on price inflation rather than wage inflation. The Congressional Budget Office endorses it. Savings: $24 billion.
End duplication at the Department of Homeland Security. When DHS was created by combining 22 agencies, there was no reason for each agency to keep separate, full public affairs offices, procurement offices, civil liberties offices and numerous other separate sinecures for functions that, under one department, can now be consolidated. Savings: $10 billion.
Repeal the Davis-Bacon Act. Okay, this one will be tough to accomplish against determined union opposition, but it really makes sense. Davis-Bacon requires that government construction workers be paid at the locally “prevailing wage.” In practice, this means such workers get paid as much as 62% more per hour than they otherwise would. Savings: $6 billion.
Reduce the federal vehicle fleet by 20 percent. Governors and state legislators nationwide have found that most governments own far too many cars for government employee use, so reduction of vehicle fleets has become a favorite savings measure. The federal government hasn’t made such reductions, even with cars sitting on lots, unused. It should. Savings: $5.6 billion.
Reduce government printing. Again, technology should ride to the rescue. There’s often no need for automatic printing of paper documents now that so much can be done online. Savings: $4.9 billion.
Re-allow privatized airport security. Federal law allows airports to contract out screening services to private companies, and a number of airports did so without danger to the public. The Department of Homeland Security, however, halted the program by administrative fiat. Travelers reported confidence in the private screeners, plus better, friendlier customer service. Savings: $2 billion.
Cut the number of limousines owned by the government. Gotta love this one. Self-explanatory. Savings: $115.5 million.
Total ten-year savings, even after modifying one item downward: $597.1855 billion. Johnson has 46 other suggestions – concentrating on merely one small segment of the federal behemoth. The question shouldn’t be whether the supercommittee can find $1.4 trillion in savings; the question should be why it can’t find at least twice as much.