Bush and Congress Prepare New Attacks on Federal Workers

July 1, 2003

The Bush administration and Congress, with the support of leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties, are preparing new legislation to drastically strip away civil service protections currently guaranteed for some 750,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense (DOD).

For starters, the new law would eliminate guaranteed yearly raises for DOD workers and put in place a "pay-for-performance" plan which would even allow supervisors to cut the salaries of workers who receive "poor" evaluations. As workers know from long and bitter experience such "pay-for-performance" schemes are used to keep wages low and sweat more and more work out of employees. Because wages are dependent on the arbitrary authority of the supervisors, workers are always under the gun.

The proposed legislation would also greatly expand supervisors' power to discipline and fire workers by limiting the current appeals process. The collective bargaining rights of local unions would also be curtailed.

Similar attacks on wages and working conditions were imposed last year on 180,000 federal employees when Congress approved the consolidation of 22 separate agencies into the new Department of Homeland Security. The work rules changes were carried out under the transparent pretext that the government needed a more "flexible" workforce to "fight against terrorism."

In addition to the DOD, other federal agencies, include the Department of Education, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are asking Congress to eviscerate civil service protections.

The federal civil service system was first instituted in 1883 to replace the system of political patronage and provide government workers with certain minimal rights. Since then, as a result of workers' struggles and unionization, governmental employees at all levels - federal, state and local - have won additional improvements in their wages and working conditions.

Today, public employees are coming under repeated attacks as the government is slashing social spending, eliminating public sector jobs, cutting wages, privatizing services, increasing workloads, etc. As the proposed DOD changes show, these attacks aim at eliminating standards gained by workers over generations.