Pay and Benefits Watch: Protecting federal pay

After a yearlong up-and-down battle over the size of federal employees' pay raises on Jan. 1, 2000, Congress and the Clinton administration at the end of September settled on a 4.8 average increase for both civilian and military employees.

Senior federal executives, meanwhile, also appeared to be on their way to a 3.4 percent raise, after Congress allowed for an automatic cost-of-living increase for lawmakers. Senior executives' pay is linked to congressional pay.

But as the month of October ended, the raises settled upon just a month before appeared to be in jeopardy. To come up with about $4 billion in savings, the congressional leadership was advocating a 1 percent across-the-board cut in all federal agencies' budgets.

Then the congressional leadership did something that seasoned civil servants, accustomed to seeing budget savings come out of their wallets, might have been surprised to see. Congress decided to cut its own pay, but leave the raises for employees, including executives, intact.

"As a sign of how serious we are, we will ask more of ourselves than we are asking of any government employees," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, when the GOP began promoting the 1 percent across-the-board budget cut.

On Wednesday, President Clinton vetoed the 1 percent across-the-board cut, so Congress and the White House must restart their budget negotiations. That means civil servants' paychecks aren't out of the woods yet. But it's a good sign, compared to past years, that the administration and Congress have so far spared federal raises the budget ax.

In Case You Missed It

On Oct. 25, reported that the IRS was raising the limit on Thrift Savings Plan contributions to $10,500. If you missed the article, here it is: TSP contribution limit rises.

And if you missed the Oct. 19 announcement of cost-of-living increases for federal retirees, here's that article: Federal retirees' cost-of-living increases announced.

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