House OKs Federal Worker Rule, Could Ease Cutting Employees, Pay

A resolution passed by the House will make it easier, at least for a year, for members to cut the federal workforce or reduce federal workers’ salaries through appropriations bills.

The resolution (H. Res. 5), approved Jan. 3 on a 234-193 vote, reinstates the “Holman Rule,” a 19th century House rule that was rescinded in 1983. Under the rule, amendments to appropriations bills being considered on the House floor can cut the number or salaries of federal employees covered by the bills provided they are paid with Treasury Department funds, according to a summary from the House Republican Policy Committee.

The rule will be reinstated only for the first session of the 115th Congress, which will conclude near the end of calendar year 2017 or early in 2018. “The purpose of this provision is to see if the reinstatement of the Holman rule will provide Members with additional tools to reduce spending during consideration” of appropriations bills, the summary said.

Effort to Reshape Federal Workforce

Don Kettl, a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy and nonresident senior fellow at the Washington-based Partnership for Public Service, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 4 that, as far as he can tell, the rule “hasn't been used in the past” as a way to reshape the federal workforce.

The reinstatement of the rule is part of a “far broader strategy” in Congress to change the nature of the federal workforce, including the way federal workers are hired and fired, he said.

“There are conservatives in the House who want to cut the number of government employees” and “roll back salaries on an agency-by-agency, program-by-program basis,” Kettl said. The rule will allow them to introduce amendments to this end, he said.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 4 that he's “deeply concerned” that the rule “would make it easier for the Majority to circumvent the current legislative process to fire or cut the pay of federal employees.”

The rule could allow “far-reaching changes to the nonpartisan civil service on the basis of ideology,” Hoyer said in an e-mail.

Return of ‘Fiscal Sanity.’

Neil Siefring, vice president of Hilltop Advocacy LLC and a former Republican House staffer, said in a Jan. 3 tweet that the rule “will restore fiscal sanity and right size government.”

Siefring congratulated Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), a member of the Republican Policy Committee, for adding the rule to the House resolution, calling it “historic.”

Hilltop Advocacy, a Washington-based firm, says it “provides communications, legislative strategy, political intelligence, writing, research, and advocacy from a conservative perspective.”