Key legislators stand firm on military-civilian pay parity

Washington-area House lawmakers said Friday that they continue to support military-civilian pay parity, despite recent calls from the Bush administration and a senior congressman on the House Appropriations Committee to hold down the 2005 civil service pay raise.

In his fiscal 2005 budget request, President Bush asked for a 3.5 percent pay raise for the military and a 1.5 percent raise for civilian personnel. Bush's fiscal 2004 request contained a similar gap, but Congress provided a 4.1 percent increase for both groups this year.

Bush has said the military deserves a larger raise because of ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Earlier this month, an administration official told Government Executive that Congress often is willing to grant equal pay raises but does not back up those adjustments with the requisite funding for agencies to pay their employees. The official said that the administration would try to work with lawmakers to limit the civil service pay raise.

In what may be the first sign of those efforts, Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., R-Okla., sent a letter to his colleagues Thursday stating that the federal government cannot afford to provide pay parity. Istook, who serves as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles the civilian pay raise, said, "We need to join with President Bush in assuring that civil service base pay is not increased for [fiscal 2005] beyond the proposed 1.5 percent."

Istook said that if the civilian pay increase were adjusted to 3.5 percent - to match the military pay raise proposal - the federal government would have to find an additional $2 billion.

"We often express our appreciation for federal workers, but we must balance this with our fiscal responsibility," Istook wrote.

Lawmakers from the Washington area, however, said they remain committed to pay parity. Dan Scandling, spokesman for Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said that many civilian employees are involved in the war against terrorism and must not be slighted.

"Federal employees are the FBI, the scientists at [the National Institutes of Health], the scientists at [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], they are the CIA," Scandling said. "Federal employees are on the front lines of fighting the war on terror."

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has not wavered in his support of equal pay raises, according to his spokesman, David Marin.

"Davis, consistent with every year he's been in Congress, continues to support pay parity," Marin said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., addressed Istook's letter directly.

"We can't afford not to provide pay parity," Hoyer said Thursday. "Providing pay parity represents a tiny fraction of the $2.4 trillion the president proposes spending in 2005, but pays big dividends in retaining quality employees who otherwise will take their valuable government expertise to the private sector."