Senate subcommittee backs 3.1 percent civilian pay increase

A Senate appropriations subcommittee approved a 3.1 percent average pay raise for federal civilian employees Tuesday, following the House's lead.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development moved to put the civilian raise on par with military personnel for fiscal 2006. On July 1, the House passed its version of the fiscal 2006 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill (H.R. 3058), which included the 3.1 percent raise.

Two senators also offered language that would require agencies to allow employee teams to compete in any public-private contest involving more than 10 positions.

The Bush administration had proposed a 2.3 percent pay increase for civilians in 2006, and the White House threatened to veto the House-passed bill. However, Office of Management and Budget deputy director Clay Johnson conceded Tuesday that "Congress seems to be lining up behind 3.1 percent" despite administration opposition.

In order for the pay raise to go through, the Senate must still pass the bill. Then members from the House and Senate will have to work out differences in the two versions of the bill. Once the committee reaches agreement, each chamber must pass a final version. President Bush must then sign the bill into law.

The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union released statements expressing support for the subcommittee's decision.

"This action clearly demonstrates the ongoing and growing understanding by members of the Senate of the key role that federal employees daily play in doing the work of the federal government," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

The White House put out a policy statement the day before the House passed its bill arguing that by applying the raise across government, Congress would limit the Defense and Homeland Security departments' ability to "design and implement a modern personnel and pay system that best fits their needs."

Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., chairman of the subcommittee, incorporated language into the bill that would require agencies across the government to let employees form teams and compete for their jobs in any public-private competition involving more than 10 positions. Agencies currently only have to allow in-house employees to compete in contests encompassing more than 65 full-time jobs.

The language also affords the in-house teams a 10 percent or $10 million cost advantage in any contest involving more than 10 jobs. The advantage is designed to account for the expected difference in administrative costs, should the work remain in house. Circular A-76, OMB's rule book on public-private job competitions, only requires the cost adjustment in larger competitions.

"This language is the first step in leveling the playing field for federal employees," Mikulski said in a statement. "Our federal employees are on the front lines every day, working hard for America. These hardworking men and women deserve to be treated fairly and, at the very least, deserve to have the same rights that contractors do."

John Gage, president of AFGE, was quick to praise the language. "No one can deny that the Bond-Mikulski reform package is all about promoting competition for the American people and producing savings for the taxpayers."

Bond and Mikulski added the language to the base Senate version of the bill, rather than introducing it as an amendment.

The House version of the Transportation-Treasury bill also contains union-backed language that would affect the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative. That language would block agencies from using fiscal 2006 money to run contests under the most recent version of Circular A-76, written in May 2003.

The House and Senate language will be reconciled in conference negotiations. In past appropriations cycles, the Bush administration has succeeded at eliminating similar language from the spending bills during conference.

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