The Washington Post
A group of House members, led by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), wrote President Bush yesterday urging him to support "the principle of pay parity" in his fiscal 2005 budget plan.
"We cannot express strongly enough the importance of continuing the tradition of pay parity between military and civilian employees," the letter to the president said.
"Just as military employees are fighting to maintain our freedoms and security, civilian employees are on the front lines protecting our freedoms here at home. We believe anything less than the pay adjustment proposed for military employees in 2005 sends the regrettable message that the services they provide to America every day are not highly valued," the House lawmakers said.
Under pay laws, military personnel would be in line for a 3.5 percent raise next year and civil service employees for a 2.5 percent raise, plus a "locality pay" adjustment. But Congress and the White House often tinker with raises, especially for the military. Congress authorized the armed forces this year, for instance, to provide extra pay to mid-career officers and enlisted personnel who would be hard to replace.
Among those signing the letter to Bush were Reps. Hoyer, Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
"This letter marks our annual call for fairness and equity in the government employee arena," said Davis, who chairs the House Government Reform Committee. "Anything other than parity endangers morale and ignores the fact that all federal employees, both military and civilian, contribute to the betterment and security of our country."
Bush's pay plan for military and civil service employees is usually announced in his annual budget proposal, scheduled to be released Feb. 2.
Chad Kolton, the press secretary at the Office of Management and Budget, said White House officials had not seen the letter. In general, he said, the administration has viewed pay parity as providing one-size-fits-all raises that do not take into account agency requirements or workforce performance.
"We want to work with Congress to determine what the right pay raise is and how it should be structured and what the structure should include," Kolton said. "It could include what the current economic situation is, how private-sector pay is growing and the role that might play in retention, and how you use pay increases to help meet and support performance expectations."
In the letter, the House group said parity raises are not new and have enjoyed bipartisan support. For 15 of the past 17 years, the pay adjustments for the military and the civil service have been the same, the lawmakers said. They noted that the pending fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill includes a parity provision that provides for an average 4.1 percent raise to both groups this year.
"We urge you to propose a single pay adjustment for fiscal year 2005 that recognizes the essential contributions of our nation's uniformed and civilian employees," the letter to Bush said.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, applauded the group's letter. "Regardless of the agency they work for or the pay system they are under, federal employees should be recognized for their essential contributions to the welfare of this nation and its citizens," Gage said. "It's the right thing to do."