During "Public Service Recognition Week," observed each year during the first week in May, we come together to honor the women and men who serve our nation at all levels of government. Almost without exception, they are proud of their service – and so should we be.
Their dedication, talent and tireless efforts have made our government among the finest in the world. They protect us and our way of life, educate us and do everything within their power to assure that each of us is treated fairly. Standing up for us every day, it is only reasonable and right that we stand up for them.
I share this observation because, all too often, public servants are not being treated respectfully and fairly by those who make it more difficult for government employees to perform their jobs – while at the same time criticizing these same public servants for delays.
In broad terms, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has observed, the House Republicans' budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 and beyond would cut $3.3 trillion over 10 years (2015-2024) from programs that serve people of limited means – 69 percent of their proposed non-defense budget cuts. This, in a nutshell, is the long-term vision of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Republicans' 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee who may have his sights on a presidential run in 2016.
It is a perspective with which I strongly disagree. The "Ryan Budget" unfairly blames and burdens those of us who did not create our nation's fiscal challenges – as well as those in government who, even now, are seeking to protect us and reduce the pain of our current economy.
Consider the Social Security Administration – the federal agency that, as much as any other, directly serves us all. The women and men at Social Security who have dedicated their careers to serving us have undertaken the profound duty of assuring that we receive the retirement benefits for which we have worked all our lives. They seek to determine and help us if we have become too disabled to work, and they stand up for our survivors when tragedy strikes.
We may be less aware that the public servants at SSA also provide essential support to Medicare, SSI, our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Department of Homeland Security. In meeting all of these responsibilities, they are facing challenges that, increasingly, are becoming more difficult as our population ages, we baby boomers retire, and our economy resists full recovery.
Placing those challenges in every-day context, the Congressional Research Service has concluded that approximately 80 million Americans will file for retirement during the next 20 years, an average of 10,000 of us every day.
According to the Social Security Advisory Board, "Challenges such as shifting demographics, growing workloads, changing customer expectations combined with an aging workforce, deteriorating systems infrastructure, and chronic under funding have pushed SSA's ability to deliver high quality service to the brink."
Even now, the SSA is struggling. A significant reason, I would submit, is because the Congress has failed to provide the funding to assure the staffing levels and training that the analysts would consider adequate to the growing demands that SSA personnel face. While "budget hawks" decry those relative few Americans who inappropriately obtain Social Security Disability Income, far more Americans, who legitimately deserve this help, have been encountering unacceptable delays.
Under the revitalized leadership of Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, the Social Security Administration is working hard to address these challenges. The federal employees at SSA are professionals. They are determined to perform their duty as well as they can.
To succeed – at SSA and throughout our government as a whole – our public servants need and deserve adequate funding. In this, I am forced to agree with American Federation of Government Employees President David Cox Sr., when he observes that some in the Congress are failing. "Not content with the $138 billion already taken from this modestly paid [federal] workforce in the form of a three-year pay freeze …," Mr. Cox has declared, "the 2015 edition of the Ryan Budget would maul the federal workforce with a new ferocity."
Our Democratic response is based upon reality, as well as fairness. Federal workers did not cause our budgetary imbalance – and they should not be unfairly and irrationally burdened in fashioning the solution. This is why I have joined Virginia Congressman Gerald Connolly and 12 of our House colleagues in proposing a modest, 3 percent pay raise for federal workers in Fiscal Year 2015 [the FAIR Act, H.R. 4306].
This week, and every week, we should stand up for those who have been called to public service. We should stand up for them, even as they stand up for the rest of us every day.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings represents Maryland's 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
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