Virginia Democrat objects to federal pay freeze

A Virginia lawmaker whose district is home to many federal employees said on Tuesday that he does not support a pay freeze for government workers.

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, during a town hall meeting in Washington for employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, also admitted he doesn't believe parity between civilian and military pay can be accomplished this year in Congress, alluding to partisanship. In fiscal 2010, service members received a 3.4 percent pay raise while the civilian workforce received a 2 percent boost.

While President Obama has frozen the pay of White House personnel, federal workers so far have been spared. Some lawmakers have tried recently to push legislative proposals to freeze federal workers' salaries to help reduce the deficit and pay for the ongoing wars.

With federal retirements on the rise, Moran said the government might not be able to maintain the same quality of employees without salary increases. Competition, he added, is essential to attract a high-caliber federal workforce, and pay freezes only will make this task more difficult. But Moran told EPA employees that, "freezes will be difficult to avoid if unemployment stays this high."

Moran, who was thanked by one employee for being "a consistent supporter of federal workers," also spent time on Tuesday touring EPA, including the agency's emergency operations room. He praised employees for their commitment and hard work in dealing with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: "I have an intense appreciation for civil service," said the congressman. In March, Moran assumed chairmanship of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, the panel that oversees EPA funding.

He noted EPA scientists and employees were devalued in years past and it was time to change false perceptions. He called for greater agency outreach to the American people and their communities. "Give them the facts and let them make up their minds. We have a responsibility to inform our democracy," he said.

The lawmaker credited the EPA Emergency Operations Room as a model for crisis response among other federal agencies. The agency uses technology such as teleconference and monitoring capabilities that allow EPA employees in Washington to stay connected to the epicenter of the crisis. Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said EPA is working closely with the Food and Drug Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service on cleanup efforts.

"You are absolutely indispensible," Moran told employees. "The health of the country is on your shoulders.

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