When Barack Obama announced that he would freeze the pay of federal workers in his State of the Union speech, the implication was that the money would be applied to the federal deficit. That may be the case in some areas of the federal bureaucracy, but apparently not in the Department of Energy. According to the site Government Executive, the DoE announced internally that the money saved would be “reinvested” in DoE programs:
At the time, little was known about how much Energy would save through freezing contractor pay, or how the department would use the money saved. In his announcement, Chu only said, “households and small businesses across the country are making sacrifices” because of the struggling economy and contract employees should “join the federal workforce in playing a part.”
While the pay freeze for civilian federal workers will be used, at least in part, to bring down the deficit, it appears Energy has no such intentions for its contractor workforce.
“Secretary Chu has issued principles for each laboratory to reinvest the funds not put into salary increases,” Samuel Aronson, director of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, N.Y., wrote in a Jan. 24 memorandum to staffers that Government Executive obtained. “Suggested uses are to promote sustainability and advance projects through Laboratory Directed Research and Development, or other mechanisms. We are required to submit a list of intended uses by the end of the day today.”
The people who saw their wages frozen by this new policy are not happy — to say the least. Indeed, they wrote in response to Brookhaven’s Monday Morning Memo (apparently private) that they were being used as “political pawns,” according to Government Executive’s report. Aronson, in replying to these concerns, said that the continuing expansion of grants to laboratories and “recognition” through “thoughtful feedback” from peers should provide enough incentive for current workers in DoE’s laboratories.
I have requests in at the White House for comment on this story, and will update when I hear back from them.