House passes 3.5 percent military pay raise

The House approved a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel Thursday, also approving measures to scale back the Defense Department's controversial personnel system and limit public-private competitions for government work.

"There are many provisions in this bill that are good for our men and women in uniform, such as a 3.5 percent pay raise and a prohibition on fee increases for the TRICARE and TRICARE pharmacy programs," said Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., following the 397-27 vote to pass the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization legislation.

The final measure preserved committee language to overhaul the Pentagon's National Security Personnel System, which has been challenged by federal labor unions as limiting the collective bargaining and appeal rights of the department's civilian employees.

The House-passed bill would restore those rights and would require the department to bargain with unions before implementing changes to its pay-for-performance system.

The White House opposes the changes, and in a statement warned that presidential advisers would recommend that Bush veto the final bill if it includes the language.

Federal labor union officials, however, praised the House vote. "We commend the House of Representatives for repairing the damage inflicted by the department's misguided personnel system," said American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage.

The House also left untouched committee-passed provisions related to competitive sourcing, the process of inviting the private sector to bid on government work under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.

An amendment sponsored by Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., would give federal employees new appeal rights in A-76 competitions, and would give managers discretion not to recompete work at the end of an in-house team's performance period.

The bill would also push the department to develop guidance on bringing contracted work back in-house, prevent contractors from gaining a cost advantage by offering health or retirement benefits cheaper than those provided to federal employees, limit OMB's role in the Pentagon's decision-making around competitive sourcing, and require a reconsideration of all ongoing competitions to gauge whether they should continue.

The bill would require all agencies to notify Congress of their intention to announce a new competition.

The White House condemned the A-76 provisions, as well as lawmakers' decision to raise pay more than the 3 percent proposed in the president's budget, but did not threaten to veto the authorization measure based on those issues.

Brittany R. Ballenstedt contributed to this report.

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