Legislators Push for Higher Pay

amaxwell@govexec.com

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Tuesday announced they will introduce the Federal Employee Pay Fairness Act, a bill designed to give federal employees higher pay raises under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act.

Hoyer said the new bill will close a "major" loophole in FEPCA that allowed the administration to propose federal pay raises much lower than the law recommended.

FEPCA lays out a formula to grant annual locality pay raises to close the pay gap between the federal and nonfederal sectors. The original goal of the legislation was to bridge the gap almost completely by 2002. But only 30 percent of the pay gap has been closed, Hoyer said, when 70 percent should be.

"When we adopted FEPCA, everyone was concerned about the very large federal deficit," Hoyer explained at a press conference. "So we added a clause that says in times of severe economic conditions, FEPCA can be overlooked."

The new legislation, however, will specifically define "severe economic conditions" as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the Gross Domestic Product. This way, Hoyer said, the administration cannot circumvent FEPCA.

"What this legislation does is change a subjective standard into an objective standard," Sarbanes said.

Hoyer said that since the economy is at its strongest point in more than 25 years, it's time for the administration to fulfill the spirit of FEPCA.

"We cannot continue to ask federal employees to give their fair share to get our house in order economically when it already is in order," Hoyer said, referring to the fact that the federal budget deficit has been all but eliminated.

The Federal Salary Council, a body that recommends raises each year under FEPCA, called for a 13 percent pay raise in 1999. Union leaders said they would settle for a 6 percent increase, but the Clinton administration opted to recommend a 3.1 percent raise in its fiscal 1999 budget.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who is co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate with Sarbanes, said the administration's proposal is not enough.

"We must maintain our robust economy by providing equal pay for equal work," Mikulski said. "I stood with federal employees and fought for fairness during the government shutdown, and I'm standing with them today to fight for pay equity." The legislation "provides appropriate pay for excellent employees," Sarbanes said. "We need to say to our valued employees that now we're going to keep our promises we made."

Federal union leaders embraced the proposal.

"It's about time federal workers were allowed to share in the prosperity of the nation they serve," National Treasury Employees Union President Robert Tobias said.

Professional Manager's Association President Ray Woolner said that the extraordinary accomplishments of federal employees during the past several years should be acknowledged. "For more than a decade now, the managers and employees of the federal government have contributed, more than any other working group, to the creation of a balanced budget by giving up comparability raises and enduring decreased benefits," he said.

Federal Managers Association president Michael Styles also praised Hoyer's and Sarbanes' efforts. "They realize that due to the administration's lack of full implementation of the pay law in 1990, the system now lacks credibility," he said.

Joining Hoyer and Sarbanes as co-sponsors of the legislation are: Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sen. Bill Jefferson, D-La., and Rep. Norman Sisisky, D-Va.

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