Senate backs omnibus spending bill with 4.1 percent raise

The Senate Thursday passed a $390 billion fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations package that includes a 4.1 percent pay increase for civilian federal employees this year.

The omnibus spending package is necessary because Congress has been unable to reach agreement on most agencies' fiscal 2003 appropriations. Agencies have been operating under temporary funding measures since the beginning of fiscal 2003 last Oct. 1.

The endorsement of a 4.1 percent raise, which would be retroactive to the beginning of the calendar year, marks yet another turn in an almost year-long battle over 2003 pay rates for civilian employees.

In its fiscal 2003 budget last February, the Bush administration proposed a 2.6 percent raise for civilian federal workers, but a 4.1 increase for military service members. Members of Congress from both parties immediately pushed for military-civilian pay parity.

In July, the House approved a 4.1 percent average raise for civilian employees as part of the fiscal 2003 Treasury-Postal appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved the 4.1 percent raise in its version of the fiscal 2003 Treasury-Postal bill, but the full Senate didn't vote on the measure before adjourning last year.

In the absence of congressional action, Bush issued an order on Nov. 30 granting civilian employees a 3.1 percent across-the-board increase, but no locality pay raise in 2003. An increase in civilian pay matching the military raise would jeopardize homeland security efforts, the president said.

Members of the House and Senate representing Washington-area federal employees immediately vowed to overturn the president's action in passing final fiscal 2003 spending bills.

If the omnibus appropriations bill is approved by the House, the 4.1 percent raise included in it will likely be divided between a 3.1 percent across-the-board increase and locality pay increases averaging 1 percent. The Federal Salary Council has already recommended locality-based raises based on the 4.1 percent raise that worked its way through Congress last year. Under the council's recommendations, raises would vary from 4.03 percent in such places as Huntsville, Ala., and Indianapolis, to 4.87 percent in San Francisco. (For a full list, click here).

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