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Analysis: Federal Workforce Invoked By Both Sides In Campaign

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As the focus of this year's presidential race shifts to a likely match-up between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ideas about the appropriate size and role of government have come into sharp contrast. In the D.C. area, with its deep economic ties to the government and federal contractors, those views could have an even more personal impact.

Chris Frates, lobbying and Congressional correspondent for National Journal, talks with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about this issue. Here are some highlights:  

What Romney has said about federal workers and the role they play: "Gov. Romney hasn't endeared himself to fed workers, he's been out on the campaign trail, saying things like, 'You can hire a lot of bureaucrats, that's what the president's done, he's added 135,000 people to the federal workforce,' as if that were a bad thing," Frates says. "It's half true … Obama has added to the size of the federal workforce … but those are border patrol agents, doctors, nurses. These aren't necessarily people you think of as a bureaucrat, the pejorative term for someone not really doing a lot at their job." 

How President Obama has approached the government workers on the campaign trail: "A few years ago, President Obama put a pay freeze in for the entire federal workforce, so that didn't endear him to the federal workforce in our area," Frates says. "What we've seen in an election year — surprise, surprise — is a modest pay bump he proposed in his 2013 budget of 0.5%." 

On the role the defense industry, which has a huge presence in the D.C. area, will play in this election: "What you see here in this area, with companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, is a very big workforce that is very engaged," Frates says. "The industry as a whole has given almost two-to-one to the Republican side."

How federal employee unions will wield their influence leading up to the November election: "You're already seeing federal employee unions here in Washington hitting back against the idea of reducing benefits to federal employees, with ads on local TV stations, and in local publications," Frates says. "That does not help Republicans, and it may even help lay the groundwork for President Obama."


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