Paying union staff at Social Security draws GOP fire House panel links rise to trust fund depletion

June 05, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- At a time when Americans are anxious about the future of Social Security, Republican members of a House subcommittee suggested yesterday that President Clinton was to blame for increased spending of Social Security money on salaries for federal union workers.

"Senior citizens count on trust fund money to pay for their benefits, and I think they would be outraged to learn that part of the trust funds are going to pay the salaries of Social Security employees to do full-time union work," said Rep. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the subcommittee on Social Security.

Bunning was reacting to a report by the General Accounting Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- that said the amount of Social Security money spent on union pay had risen from $6 million to $12.6 million in three years.

Union officials noted that paying their labor representatives with government money is a long-standing practice in many federal agencies. John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees union, defended the policy -- approved by Congress in the late 1970s -- saying that union workers spend much time trying to make government work more efficiently.

Sturdivant called yesterday's hearing an election-year "show trial," intended to embarrass Clinton and labor unions, which have been among the president's strongest campaign supporters.

"This is not about protecting the trust fund," said Sturdivant, whose union represents 55,000 Social Security workers nationwide. "This is about trying to follow up on [a House Republican] memo and dig up dirt on the unions."

Sturdivant was referring to an April 23 memo that requested information from committees on "waste, fraud and abuse in the Clinton Administration [and] influence of Washington Labor Union Bosses/Corruption."

After the hearing, Bunning denied that the inquiry was related to the memo. He said he had asked the GAO last year to investigate the matter.

Social Security is an emotional issue for many Americans. The Woodlawn-based agency sends out $370 billion a year in retirement and disability checks.

But as the retired population booms in the beginning of the next century, many predict that there will not be enough money to keep the trust funds solvent. Bunning suggested that a 1993 decision by Clinton to make unions full partners in decision-making in federal agencies had caused the increase in Social Security money being paid to labor representatives. But Jane L. Ross, a GAO official who testified yesterday, said she was unsure how much effect that policy had had.

Social Security officials attributed some of the increase to a greater need for labor involvement in plans to reduce the agency's work force and streamline the delivery of services.

Bunning said he objected to using trust fund money for purposes other than payments to the public. Over the years, the trust funds have been used to finance various items, including welfare payments and missiles. The government has essentially issued IOUs for the money it has borrowed.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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