Bush thaws pay freeze for senior foreign service members

President Bush issued an executive order on Friday that allows Senior Foreign Service members to adjust their pay level when they return to the United States from overseas assignments.

"We're quite satisfied with the result," said John W. Limbert, president of the American Foreign Service Association, which pushed for the adjustment.

The issue arose after Congress passed the fiscal 2004 Defense Authorization Act, which froze senior executives' pay at current levels on Jan. 11.

When members of the Senior Foreign Service are stationed overseas they receive about 14 percent less salary than those in Washington and that disparity would have been compounded by the new law, according to Limbert.

Bush issued the adjustment "in light of the changes" that the authorization act put into place, according to the executive order.

Shortly after the defense authorization was passed in December 2003, Limbert said that Foreign Service personnel overseas could find their pay frozen as much as $16,000 below the salaries of their Washington-based colleagues.

"We've worked very closely with the management of the agencies, particularly the Department of State on this," he said Monday. The executive order "provides a fair transition into the new system...What the new law could have done, it would have made that inequity permanent."

The law also raised the potential pay cap for the Senior Executive Service, whose pay structure is mirrored by the Senior Foreign Service. Actual raises still must wait for regulations from the Office of Personnel and Management to be put in place and for decisions by individual agencies.

The act raised the SES cap from $134,000 to $154,700, and compressed six SES pay levels into one pay range with a minimum salary of about $102,000. Under the previous pay cap, about 70 percent of all SES personnel were receiving the same top-level of pay.