December 21, 2009
President Obama signed into law on Monday a 3.4 percent pay raise for service members in 2010, while federal employee unions said they would push for parity between civilian and military pay in 2011.
The military pay raise, included in the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326), was 0.5 percent higher than the 2.9 percent raise Obama requested in his initial budget proposal. Congressional appropriators honored the president's request for a 2.0 percent increase in pay for civilian employees in an omnibus spending package. Obama proposed in November that the entire raise go to base pay. But lawmakers instead devoted 1.5 percent of the raise to base pay and 0.5 percent of it to locality pay, a move federal employee advocates had recommended.
"While we are fully committed to pay parity, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers members nonetheless remain unified in support of generous pay increases for our fighting men and women, including the 3.4 percent increase approved by Congress," said Matt Biggs, IFPTE's legislative director. "The union is obviously disappointed that pay parity was not achieved [for] fiscal 2010, and we will work hard to reach that goal in fiscal 2011."
Military pay also could see a shakeup in fiscal 2011. On Dec. 11, Obama sent a memo to Defense Secretary Robert Gates directing him to begin a review of military compensation, which the administration is required to perform every four years.
"In these times of unprecedented expectations and demands, our attention must be on the well-being of our personnel in uniform," the memo said. "The defense of the homeland and ongoing overseas operations require us to examine and determine whether compensation levels are sufficient to sustain current and future efforts to recruit and retain the right skill set and experience level."
Obama asked Gates to examine, in particular, wages for service members deployed in combat and under hostile fire; pay for National Guard and Reserve members; compensation for military members who are wounded and those who care for them; and pay incentives for service members in critical occupations such as mental health, translation, and special operations.
John Palguta, vice president for policy at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said those instructions were an important reflection of the administration's priorities. The Bush administration, he said, had focused on performance-based compensation in its reviews of military pay. But he cautioned that the review also would be a product of the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which tend to drive military compensation higher.
Palguta said a similar regular review of civilian compensation could make it less politically difficult to discuss federal employees' pay and allow more focus on core issues, such as recruiting and retaining a talented government workforce.
"Really what should be happening here is we should be making decisions about civilian pay on the facts, on a basic set of principles," Palguta said. "What does it take to recruit really good folks for the jobs to be done, to motivate and to retain those folks? As a taxpayer, I'm not in favor of paying more than we need to. But as someone concerned about effective government, I'm not a fan of underpaying federal employees and ending up with folks who aren't capable, or high turnover, or people who are here simply for the perceived security of a federal job, as opposed to the opportunity to do public service."
December 21, 2009