By Stephen Barr
It was over before it even started.
The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a 3.1 percent pay raise next year for civil service employees, continuing a long-standing practice of providing a raise equal to that planned for the military.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) had announced the pay raise amendment but was interrupted before he could start his presentation by Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, the Republican manager for the legislation.
Knollenberg announced that the Republican majority was accepting the amendment, which settled the matter. Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) called for a voice vote and said the amendment was approved.
The committee's decision sends a strong signal that federal employees can expect to receive the 3.1 percent raise next year. In past years, the committee's decision has been allowed to stand by the House, Senate and the White House.
The committee's vote overrides the president's recommendation. In his 2006 budget, President Bush proposed a 2.3 percent raise for the civil service and a 3.1 percent raise for the military.
Hoyer and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) offered the amendment as part of the fiscal 2006 spending bill for transportation, treasury, housing and urban development. The $66.9 billion bill was approved yesterday evening on a voice vote.
The speedy approval of the pay raise drew objections from Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), who has faulted the committee's handling of the issue in the past. He said that federal pay raises in recent years have outpaced inflation and noted that, on a percentage basis, relatively few federal employees are leaving government. "We are not having retention problems in the civil service," Istook said.
Hoyer, who issued a statement after the voice vote, said that increasing numbers of federal employees are becoming eligible for retirement and that the government must have the ability to compete for the best workers.
Military personnel and civil service employees "work side-by-side and for the same employer," Hoyer said. "So," he added, "it is appropriate to provide them with equal pay adjustments."
The 3.1 percent pay raise would go to white-collar and blue-collar federal employees. The across-the-board raise could be the last for employees at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Both agencies plan to convert to performance-based systems, and some employees in 2007 may receive raises that are based on their occupation, market conditions and job ratings.
Congressional aides said that Hoyer, Wolf and Moran had devoted considerable time to lobbying their colleagues on the pay raise and had lined up enough votes to win approval on a roll-call vote. Faced with dozens of amendments to the spending bill and eager to get legislation lined up for floor action, Republican leaders apparently opted to accept the pay amendment rather than spend time in debate and on calling the roll, the aides said.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), a "pay parity" supporter, and the presidents of the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees issued statements in support of the committee's action.
On other matters, the House committee recommended cutting $2.6 million in the Office of Personnel Management budget that would have gone toward creating and administering a new government-wide personnel system. The committee directed OPM to continue work on the Defense and Homeland Security personnel overhauls "before bringing the system to other agencies and departments."
The committee also would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from spending funds to close taxpayer assistance centers until the inspector general has studied and reported on "the impact that such closures would have on taxpayer compliance." In May, the IRS announced plans to close 68 centers, putting 434 jobs at risk, as part of a cost-cutting effort. The plan has been opposed by the NTEU.