Prospects for higher federal raise remain murky
The House passed an appropriations bill in July that would give civilian employees a raise of 2 percent -- a figure President Obama has supported. The Senate has yet to take up its version of the bill, which includes a 2.9 percent hike. With no vote scheduled on the Senate version, some labor groups are wondering how the issue will be resolved.
"It's just not really clear what the process will be going forward," said Randy Erwin, legislative director for the National Federation of Federal Employees.
Those pushing for a bigger pay hike are hopeful that the 3.4 percent raise for military service members, included in the final version of the Defense authorization bill, will help their chances. The bill passed both chambers and now awaits Obama's signature. But many consider pay parity among military and civilian workers unlikely.
"I don't think that's in the cards at this point," said Daniel Adcock, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. "I think that federal employees will do well if they get the 2.9 percent increase."
In the past, federal and military pay hikes have been tied through the principle of pay parity, although there is no law requiring it. In 2008, Congress agreed to 3 percent raises for both military and civilian employees -- even though President Bush's initial budget request called for a higher military pay hike. But with the economy in a recession and a military raise figure that could be out of reach for many agency budgets, pay parity could be difficult to achieve politically.
"The IFPTE is pushing for [2.9 percent]," said Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "At this point in the process, I think that's the best we can get."
Biggs said federal employees understood the tough choices Americans were facing. "It's a tough economy, and federal employees are more than willing to do their part," he said. "There haven't been complaints among our members that there's not pay parity this year. They understand. They get it."
In his original budget request -- which included a 2.9 percent raise for uniformed service members and a 2 percent raise for civilians -- Obama said the raise would reflect the "priorities of an administration that is committed to caring for the service members who protect our security and the families who support them." The House and Senate Armed Services committees then increased the military pay hike to 3.4 percent.
Adcock said it was hard to tell whether the 3.4 percent military raise would help federal civilian workers or not. "We hope it does," he said.
In mid-October, the Federal Salary Council reported the salary gap between public and private employees has grown, but it stopped short of making a specific recommendation to Congress for a higher federal pay hike.