By Stephen Barr and Christopher Lee
President Bush will propose a 3.1 percent pay raise for members of the armed forces and a 2.3 percent increase for civilian federal employees under the fiscal 2006 budget plan the White House will release on Monday.
The proposal marks the third consecutive year that Bush has sought a bigger increase for the military than for civilian workers, ignoring repeated bipartisan calls in Congress for equivalent raises for both groups.
The new proposed raises would go to more than 2.3 million military members and about 1.8 million civilian workers.
White House budget officials declined to comment on the pay proposals yesterday. But administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president's recommendation has not yet been formally released, disclosed the proposed raises.
In his budget, the president followed a formula set by Congress for the military pay hike. His civil service raise was pegged to the administration's estimate of the inflation rate and designed to protect the purchasing power of federal employees, one Bush official said.
The official also noted that the 2.3 percent proposal is in line with administration's forecasts for private-sector wage growth of about 2.6 percent. When bonuses and performance raises are added, many federal employees will see raises comparable to those given in industry, the official said.
"At a more basic level," the official added, "this entire proposal is set up to achieve the goal of recruiting, retaining and motivating quality people."
But Washington area lawmakers say many government employees' pay is not competitive with the private sector. On Tuesday, bipartisan groups in Congress introduced resolutions that call for upholding a two-decade-old tradition and passing equivalent raises for military and civil service employees.
"I am very pleased that the president recognized our military employees' hard work and sacrifice by proposing a fair pay adjustment," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). "But his desire to shortchange civilian employees -- hundreds of thousands of whom work side-by-side with the military -- will damage recruitment and retention efforts, which are key to government serving taxpayers effectively."
Hoyer and others, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), have said that many civil service workers -- from scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to CIA operatives to Border Patrol agents -- play important roles in homeland security.
"Congress has repeatedly spoken on this issue and, again, we intend to make pay parity a reality for federal employees," said Davis, noting that 299 House members voted for equal raises last year.
Federal union leaders say providing smaller raises to civilians sends a message that their contributions are of lesser value.
"I am not surprised, but I am disappointed," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said, "Throughout this administration, I think that civilians have been relegated to second-class citizens."
This past year, lawmakers settled on a 3.5 percent raise for everyone after Bush proposed a 3.5 percent raise for the military and 1.5 percent increase for civilian employees.
White House officials have maintained in the past that the armed forces deserve higher increases in light of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the continuing struggle against terrorism. The administration also dislikes the current pay system, which officials believe rewards longevity in a job rather than performance.
Union leaders said they believe they can again persuade Congress to uphold the tradition of "pay parity," but they concede that the fight could be tougher this year because of rising federal deficits and tight agency budgets.
"There will be a lot of pressure from the administration on those that are supporting us," Kelley said.