Area House Members Urge Parity for Civilian Workers

For Immediate Release:

February 1, 2004

Contact:Stephen Barr

The Washington Post

A group of Washington-area House members plans to introduce a resolution Tuesday that would put the House on record in support of a "pay parity" raise in the upcoming fiscal 2005 budget debate.

The proposed resolution traditionally kicks off a Kabuki-like dance that can last into autumn if Congress decides to increase federal pay more than the president recommends in his budget, which is scheduled for release tomorrow.

In past years, Washington-area House members have made it a priority to get a pay provision included in the annual budget resolution that provides equal raises, on average, to the military and the civil service. Although the provision is not binding, it usually provides leeway to the House Appropriations Committee to modify the president's pay plan.

But the wrangling over civil service raises could be more contentious this year, given the administration's strong support for more closely linking pay to employee performance.

The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are working on new pay systems that will probably move 400,000 or more employees off the 15-grade General Schedule and into fewer pay levels. As part of the change, the departments seem likely to tighten up on annual pay raises and tie them more closely to evaluations of each employee's job performance.

The government's 6,000 senior executives also are moving to a performance-based pay system and, under a law that kicked in Jan. 11, lost their guarantee of an annual raise.

But some members of Congress are skeptical about pay-for-performance systems, in part because the General Accounting Office has said agencies need to do more work to ensure they can create systems that employees perceive as fair.

Perhaps more importantly, members of Congress in recent years have found it appealing to give pay raises to the civil service that are on a par with those for the military. Some lawmakers have bases in their districts, where members of the uniformed services and civilian employees work side by side. Some lawmakers think law enforcement and intelligence agents should not receive smaller raises than the military.

In his radio address yesterday, Bush said the budget would recommend a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel. Officials at the White House budget office said the civil service increase would be announced tomorrow. Under pay law, civil service employees would be in line for a 2.5 percent raise, plus a "locality pay" adjustment. The pay law, however, has been mostly ignored in recent years because of questions about whether its formula accurately reflected private-sector salaries and labor markets.

The proposed resolution on the 2005 federal pay raise would ensure that white-collar and blue-collar civil service employees "receive a fair pay adjustment that provides them with parity with the military," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the resolution's chief sponsor, said in a statement.

In addition to Hoyer, the resolution's sponsors include Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

"I hope that the White House recognizes that this resolution is more evidence that a bipartisan majority in Congress supports the principle of pay parity," Hoyer said.

Moran said he feared the president "will again submit a budget that treats his employees -- federal workers -- unfairly by giving them a lower pay raise than their colleagues who wear a uniform in the military."

Six senators last week also urged the president to provide "equal pay" raises to the military and the civil service. They are Sens . Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), John W. Warner (R-Va.), George Allen (R-Va.), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii).

The outcome of this year's debate may hinge on how smoothly the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security roll out their new personnel systems and whether they provide models for the rest of the government.

"We worked hard last year to begin moving the focus of civil service compensation from mere longevity to performance," Davis said. "This resolution sends an important symbolic message to federal employees, giving them an added sense of security and comfort as we undertake what will be a critical but difficult transition."