House panel approves military-civilian pay parity for 2004

Civilian federal employees, including blue-collar workers, will get a 4.1 percent pay increase in 2004 to match military raises, under a spending bill amendment approved by the House Appropriations Committee Thursday.

"If we don't do this, then we lose some of our best employees," said Rep. James Moran, D-Va. "We may not see it overnight, but more than half the federal workforce is eligible to retire in the next three to five years. We ought to at least provide parity between the military and civilian personnel."

The amendment-which was also offered by Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Frank Wolf, R-Va.-passed by a voice vote. It is expected to go to the House floor in September as part of the Transportation and Treasury appropriations bill.

Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., opposed the measure because it would add more than $2 billion in spending at a time the federal government faces a deficit of $450 billion. Istook distributed a chart showing that since 1996, federal civil service pay has risen at a higher rate than both the cost of living and Social Security payments.

"I'm not opposed to adjusting pay to federal workers. The president has a responsible proposal," Istook said. President George Bush has proposed a 2.0 percent increase for civilians in fiscal 2004.

The parity measure includes blue-collar workers in pay parity efforts for the first time. Hoyer said in a statement that these workers include munitions operators, instrument mechanics and other skilled craft and trade employees. "Our nation depends on these workers to maintain our planes, ships, tanks and weapon systems in at constant states of readiness."

The committee also discussed two other amendments to the bill that would affect federal workers-one on locality pay, which was withdrawn, and another on privatization, which passed by a voice vote.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said the Office of Management and Budget issued a directive adjusting the nation's Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The changes include redefining boundaries and creating new "micropolitan" statistical areas. Farr warned that these changes could have drastic effects on locality pay.

"This is fundamentally changing the entire criteria," Farr said. "You're changing the whole map of the United States in one fell swoop."

Farr said his amendment would delay any changes for a year to give the Federal Salary Council more time to examine the impact of using the OMB's new definitions on the workforce. But Farr agreed to withdraw the amendment after Istook agreed to work with him on the issue.

Moran complained about the "arbitrary nature" of privatizing federal jobs, and about the millions of dollars spent on outsourcing studies. He offered an amendment that would require agencies to prepare annual reports for Congress on the number of employee studies for competitive sourcing, and the cost to the agency to carry out the programs. The amendment passed by a voice vote.

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