By Stephen Barr
A bipartisan group of House members plans to send a letter today to the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee to urge them to support "pay parity" raises next year for civil service and military personnel.
President Bush has recommended a 3.1 percent raise for the military next year and a 2.3 percent raise for the civil service. Administration officials oppose pay parity raises, contending that Congress does not fully fund them in non-defense agencies. As a result, some agencies must divert money from programs and operations to meet their payroll obligations, the officials said.
The House members, however, point out that parity raises have been provided nearly every year over the past two decades and that the House reiterated its support for identical raises last year by approving a pay parity resolution by a 299-to-126 vote.
"As we fight the war on terrorism at home and abroad, both the armed services and the federal civilian workforce are integral to fulfilling the role of government for the American people, and both must be compensated accordingly," a draft letter said.
The House members estimated that pay for some federal jobs lags behind the private sector by 32 percent and that military compensation runs about 10 percent less than private-sector averages.
The lawmakers said such pay gaps "severely hamper our efforts" to improve recruitment and retention of government employees.
"The federal government may never be able to compete with the private sector, dollar for dollar, but we must ensure that we do not fall further behind in the battle for talent," the draft letter said.
The letter was organized by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the civil service.
An aide to Davis said that Jon Porter (R-Nev.) , who heads the House federal workforce subcommittee, Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip, signed the letter. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was expected to sign it, the aide said.
The letter will be sent today to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and the panel's ranking Democrat, David R. Obey (D-Wis.).
Last week, 12 senators wrote to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee to urge support for pay parity raises. Among them were Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the four senators from Maryland and Virginia.
According to congressional aides, the Appropriations committees probably will come to a consensus on the 2006 pay raise this summer and reach a decision in the fall.