Much has been written about the politics of President Obama’s call for a partial spending freeze. (In short, they’re hard to figure out: The freeze annoys liberals, it’s too small to placate conservatives, and because it exempts defense spending, it hasn’t earned many plaudits from real fiscal hawks.)
Less has been written about the policy side, partly because the details of the freeze won’t be public until Obama releases his budget on Monday. But the sense I get — and I alluded to this in a quick State of the Union story last night — is that the freeze will really have a minimal impact on federal employees, both on their priorities and their pay.
Here’s John Palguta, the vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, in an interview yesterday:
In terms of the actual impact, it’s pretty modest… it does squeeze agencies a bit, because there are adjustments in pay they have to take care of, but it’s really not a dramatic impact in my view. And most of the federal budget is exempt.
And here’s John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. He argued that the Bush administration “starved” employees by outsourcing work — and he said many agencies can use the money saved by insourcing to continue hiring, even under a freeze:
Obama’s freeze is not on FTEs. It is on overall aggregate money… many of these agencies will be able to achieve their goals, because of the insourcing, because they are cutting so many of these expensive contracts that have been out there.
Gage said AFGE is “keeping its powder dry” on the freeze — not complaining about it loudly, in other words — until it sees Obama’s budget request on Monday. He also predicted the House leadership will “turn a jaundiced eye” to the freeze. If he’s right, expect a lot of angry rhetoric up and down Pennsylvania Avenue: Obama promised last night to veto any spending bill that doesn’t comply with his freeze.
I could go on — I’ve heard similar things from a number of analysts. Suffice it to say nobody expects this freeze to have a tremendous impact on government operations.