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Release: Connolly Addresses Retired and Active Federal Employees

Congressman Connolly delivered the keynote address to retired federal employees from across the Commonwealth of Virginia at the National Association of Retired Federal Employees 55th annual state convention in Reston on Friday. May 1.

Congressman Gerry Connolly delivered the keynote address to retired and active federal employees from across the Commonwealth of Virginia at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees 55th annual state convention in Reston on Friday. May 1.

Congressman Connolly is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform which has jurisdiction over issues concerning federal employees and retired federal employees.

Connolly speech to NARFE follows:

It is an honor and a privilege to be with you today.

You and your members throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia – along with your colleagues across the national capital region and the nation -- form the backbone of our federal government and have provided invaluable service to your nation.  For that, I thank all of you. 

You represent a proud lineage of dedicated federal workers who date back to the dawn of our great nation.
I am a bit of a history buff -- and knowing that I was going to join you today – I did some research on the history of the federal workforce.

Quite frankly, early records about federal employees are pretty sketchy.  Most civilian agencies did not begin compiling any kind of comprehensive federal employment records until 1919.

But I persisted and to my surprise and delight, I discovered that the very first employee to be hired by the federal government came from right here in Virginia.
His name was John Beckley and he was the first person hired under the new U.S. Constitution on April 1, 1789, as the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although the Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, it took the House nearly two years to achieve a quorum.  I’m happy to say that the House is moving a bit faster than that these days.  The Senate, on the other hand, is still moving at a 1787 pace.
But one of the first things the House did, after reaching a quorum was hire Mr. Beckley, the first federal employee.  I think that was a smart move.

Like so many of our federal employees – past and present – Mr. Beckley had a great deal of experience and a record of accomplishment, having served as the clerk to both houses of the Virginia General Assembly.
Over the course of the next two centuries, the perception and treatment of federal employees has ebbed and flowed, depending on the philosophy of the Administration and Congress in office at the time.

Many of us remember when President Kennedy called Americans to service – in the Peace Corps abroad and in the federal workforce at home.  He reminded us that public service is a noble and honorable calling.  I, like many of you here today, was inspired by that call to service and I still believe in it today.

Unfortunately, not every President has taken the same view of public service.

President Reagan didn’t believe in government and during his Administration the skills and accomplishments of federal employees were minimized and the so-called bureaucracy was demonized, made into a punching bag to help politicians get elected.  That attitude permeated our national psyche for much of the last thirty years.

Things were particularly difficult for federal employees and retirees during the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration.

He slashed federal pay hikes and reduced the workforce, while taking an ideological approach to the contracting out of federal functions.  Furthermore, he did not maintain the sacred trust that our nation has with our federal retirees. 
But I am pleased to report that times have changed. 
The climate has shifted in the administration and the Congress when it comes to the interests and needs of active and retired federal employees.  Attitudes have changed in Washington because the climate has shifted in our nation as a whole. 
In this time of economic crisis, we have realized the important role of the federal government and federal workers in putting our nation back on an even economic course.  All of the sudden, in the midst of the greatest economic crisis in 50 years, we have come to realize that we need our government and we need our federal workers. 

We now know that while government is not always the solution – sometimes it is. 

The Obama administration understands the worth of the federal workforce… and those who have served.

The 111th Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, is a different world these days, when it comes to active and retired federal employees.  I believe this newfound respect offers an opportunity to make real progress on some long-standing issues related to the federal workforce and retirees, and I hope to take advantage of that opportunity. 

Mary Lou Vroman, your 11th District Congressional liaison, is wonderful to work with… and I am forging friendships with many of the officers of the 13 NARFE chapters across Northern Virginia.  I’m attending every luncheon I can and will continue to do so.

Like my predecessor Tom Davis, I serve on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a key committee for federal employees, and I am a member of the Federal Workforce and Government Management Subcommittees.

In that role, I am working closely with Congressmen Jim Moran, Frank Wolf, Chris Van Hollen, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other area members of Congress who are all committed to advancing the interests of active and retired federal employees.

As I promised NARFE during my campaign, I have hit the ground running and am already hard at work to fulfill our common agenda.

? The President’s initial budget did not include pay parity for federal and civilian employees.  When I learned that, I hand-delivered a letter to the President explaining the critical role that our civilian employees play in our national defense and other critical areas. 
? Hand-delivering a letter to the President is not something that freshman members of Congress are, shall we say, encouraged to do.  But my job is to stand up for you. 
? I am pleased to report that, as a member of the House Budget Committee, I was able to insert language expressing the sense of Congress regarding the need for parity between federal and civilian employees.  I will continue to support this principal throughout the budget and appropriations process. 

The Federal Retirement Reform Act passed the House in April.  This important legislation:
? Included the FERS Redeposit Act, which allows FERS employees to redeposit their cashed out annuity if they reenter the federal workforce.  I introduced an amendment during Committee mark up to ensure that it included this provision, which should help attract qualified federal employees back to the workforce.  The FERS Redeposit Act had previously languished in multiple Congresses before we passed it this spring.
? Ensured FERS employees will receive retirement credit for unused sick leave, mirroring HR 958, which I cosponsored with Congressmen Moran and Wolf. 
? Reforms CSRS employees’ retirement calculations by ensuring that annuities are based on the three highest years of salaries, rather than the last three years worked.  This reform will allow CSRS employees to work part time at the end of their careers without penalty.

? In addition to reporting the Federal Retirement Reform Act, the subcommittee on Federal Workforce has already passed the Paid Parental Leave Act, HR 626.  This legislation, of which I am a cosponsor, would grant federal employees four weeks of paid parental leave. 
? We live in a region with the fourth worst congestion in the country.  With many of us facing long commutes, paid parental leave is essential to ensure that parents can spend time with young children.  We know that the early months of a child’s life are critically important for intellectual and emotional development, and that the presence of a parent is essential to ensure that children develop to their maximum potential. 
? Moreover, paid parental leave is an important component to a package of federal benefits that will attract highly skilled employees to the federal workforce. 
? When I was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax, I initiated a successful effort to implement paid parental leave for County employees.  I am pleased that my Committee in the House is working to pass this legislation for federal employees.

? I worked with Congressmen Wolf and Sarbanes to introduce legislation that would enhance telework opportunities for federal employees.  If we were to implement telework broadly throughout the region, reaching the 20% telework rate that we achieved in Fairfax County, we would reduce the number of vehicles on our roads by 5%.  You would notice the difference in traffic and air quality. 
? The Telework Improvements Act, HR 1722, establishes this 20% telework goal for all eligible federal employees and outlines implementation strategies, including identification of a high-ranking (GS-15 or higher) Telework Managing Officer to overcome any managerial resistance to telework.  
? At a Government and Oversight Reform hearing two weeks ago, I asked the new director of OPM, John Barry, what he would do to enhance telework.  Less than two weeks later Congressmen Sarbanes, Moran, and I held a press conference with John Barry to announce that OPM is implementing most of the Telework Improvements Act administratively.  We will still push forward with the legislation to establish a consistent telework policy that reaches across administrations, but I am pleased to report that we are already making progress on this important front.”

? Premium Conversion:  In February Congressmen Van Hollen, Wolf, and I introduced H.R. 1203, which will allow Federal civilian and military retirees to pay health insurance premiums pre-tax and allow a deduction for TRICARE supplemental premiums.  This legislation will provide income security for retirees while making it easier for residents of this region to purchase health insurance.  It would save the average retiree nearly $500 a year.
? Pension Offset:  Current federal employees are subject to a pension offset, reducing their retirement income from Social Security.  Private sector employees do not have to forgo Social Security income because they earned a pension; nor should federal employees.  Congressman Berman has introduced legislation, HR 235, to eliminate the pension offset for federal employees.  I am proud to cosponsor this legislation to protect federal retirees’ income security and provide the proper reward for a career of hard work.

Shifting gears, I want to recognize that we are gathered here on the eve of Public Service Recognition Week. 
It is a time for all of us to show our appreciation to all of you for your service, your skills, and the sacrifices you have made on behalf of our nation.

Every year since 1985, the President and Congress have designated the first full week of May as a period of recognition of our civilian and military federal employees.  

This year, as part of that recognition, more than 100 military and civilian government agencies will have a four-day exhibition on the National Mall to give the public an up-close and behind-the-scenes look at federal programs and initiatives.

During the week, I am scheduled to speak at a number of events celebrating the achievements and the accomplishments of our federal workforce, past and present.  This is a time to celebrate you and your many accomplishments.  

I recently had the opportunity to visit with our troops and civilian employees working in the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As a freshman Congressman, I felt it was important to see the stresses and threats faced by our people over there so I could cast intelligent and informed votes on issues affecting the two wars and the welfare of our troops and civilian federal workers.

I joined a small congressional delegation led by Congressman Steve Lynch and the short, but hectic trip was well worth the effort.  I learned a lot about the dangers faced by our military and civilian employees, but I also gained new insight into the skills, dedication, bravery and patriotism of the men and women of our federal family who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.

Finally, I want to assure you that there is a new attitude in Washington about our federal workers and those who have retired from federal service.

We get it.  We know the important role you play, or have played, to move our nation forward.

Look at the difference.

First Lady Michele Obama is visiting federal agencies.

President Obama is asking federal employees for their input and ideas on how to improve the federal government.

What a change!

The strong majority in Congress is prepared to work with the Obama administration to give federal workers the tools they need to get the job done and to ensure that our workforce receives fair and appropriate compensation and benefits.

I am proud that I represent more than 55,000 federal employees and at least that many federal retirees.  I view you as my federal family and I hope you will come to welcome me as part of yours.

I want you to know that my door is always open to you.  I want to hear your concerns.  I want you to tell me what we need to fix or do better.

I cannot promise you that I can deliver on everything right away – but I can promise you this – I will definitely try.
The Administration and the new Congress are certainly supportive of your issues and goals.  But you know and I know there will be times when they will waver, distracted by other priorities, but I will not. 

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