WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn fought unsuccessfully Thursday for a federal hiring freeze of “nonessential” employees as federal agencies confront mandatory spending cuts.
By a vote of 54 to 45, senators shot down an amendment by Coburn to a bill to keep the government running through September; the vote was mostly along party lines, with Republicans backing Coburn's proposal.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, argued that federal agencies had posted “thousands of new federal jobs” since the spending cuts went into effect two weeks ago.
The U.S. Air Force, which is threatening to furlough tens of thousands of workers, wants to hire several painters, Coburn said. The Department of Health and Human Services posted a job opening for a “travel specialist” that would get paid a minimum of $97,000 a year, Coburn said, adding that the department should be cutting back on its travel rather than hiring someone to make it easier.
The Federal Aviation Administration has job openings for two “community planners” and four “management and program assistants,” Coburn said. Keeping those positions open, he said, would spare as many as 1,000 air traffic controllers from one furlough day.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said a hiring freeze wouldn't solve the budget problems at federal agencies and would be “one more blow to a battered civil service.”
In regard to the travel specialist, she said employees at the Health and Human Services have to travel and that booking flights now is like trading commodities.
“Should (HHS Secretary Kathleen) Sebelius be doing that on her own?” Mikulski said. “I don't think so.”
Coburn and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, authored several amendments to the spending bill, which will give the Department of Defense and a handful of other federal departments more flexibility in dealing with the spending cuts; however, Senate action stalled for much of Thursday as they waited to offer them.