Bush seeks 2.9 percent civilian pay raise; 3.4 percent for military

President Bush proposed a 2.9 percent pay increase for civilian workers and a 3.4 percent pay boost for military personnel in fiscal 2009, according to budget documents released Monday.

The proposed pay raises rebuff calls for military-civilian pay parity from several lawmakers. Last week, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter to the president, asking him to incorporate the principle of equal raises for service members and civilians in his budget request.

"We cannot express strongly enough the importance of continuing the tradition of pay parity between military and civilian employees in the coming fiscal year," the lawmakers wrote. "As we fight the war on terrorism at home and abroad, both the armed services and the federal civilian workforce are integral in fulfilling the role of government for the American people."

A portion of the proposed 2.9 percent pay hike civilian workers would receive in 2009 would be allocated for locality pay.

A 2004 law mandates that military pay raises be equal to the change in the Labor Department's annual Employment Cost Index for the private sector's wages. From September 2006 to September 2007, the change in the ECI was 3.4 percent.

The absence of pay parity in the budget proposal is similar to 2006, when Bush proposed a 2.3 percent pay increase for civilian workers and a 3.1 percent boost for military personnel. Congress overruled Bush and granted 3.1 percent to both groups in the fiscal 2006 omnibus spending measure.

Last year, the president proposed 3 percent raises for both service members and civilians. Congress ended up approving 3.5 percent for both groups.

In recent years Congress consistently has ignored the president's recommendations and given both groups the same raise. Federal labor unions are likely to push for that result this year, too.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, criticized the 2.9 percent figure Monday, saying it will accelerate the loss of skilled employees from the federal government in the coming years. She called for a raise of 3.9 percent for both civilian employees and members of the uniformed military.

"The real questions are the extent to which we can retain in government the institutional knowledge developed over many years by this skilled workforce and the government's ability to recruit talented new employees who are highly sought after by private employers," Kelley said. "Pay, more than any other factor, often drives the decision."

Kelley also expressed disappointment that the president did not ensure military-civilian pay parity in his request. "The long-standing concept of pay parity … reflects the vital contributions made to our national interest and security by these two groups of hard-working federal employees," she said.

NTEU vowed Monday to make pay parity and a 3.9 percent raise in 2009 one of its major legislative priorities for this year.

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