Pay parity pursuit

A Senate Republican speaks out for a higher federal pay raise next year.

As the Senate on Wednesday prepared to vote on the fiscal 2002 budget resolution, a Senate Republican told a group of federal human resources managers that he is pushing for a higher civilian pay raise to be included in the budget. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., told HR directors gathered at a conference sponsored by American University Professor Robert Tobias' Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation, that he and other lawmakers would like to see civil servants get the same 4.6 percent average raise that military personnel will get next year. President Bush has proposed only a 3.6 percent average raise for federal workers. "I wouldn't be surprised if that disparity was taken care of," Thompson said. The Senate is likely to vote Thursday on the budget resolution following House and Senate negotiations over differences in the two chambers' original versions. The House version included a call for civilian-military pay parity; the Senate's version did not. During the Senate's debate on the budget resolution, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told other senators that the Senate version assumed a 4.6 percent raise for federal workers. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Domenici to confirm the 4.6 percent raise on the Senate floor. Domenici did. But the Senate version contained no specific language on the pay raise, instead assuming that the Bush budget proposal included a 4.6 percent civilian raise. When Bush officially announced last month that he was proposing a 3.6 percent average raise, it became clear that Domenici was mistaken. On Thursday, when the details of the budget deal between House and Senate negotiators are issued, the fate of the raise-either higher or lower-will become more clear. But it won't be the last word. Because the resolution is nonbinding, appropriators can ignore it and set different spending levels. In the past, Congress has mandated a higher raise than the President has proposed. The Bush administration says that the civilian raise should be lower than the military's because federal employees have received a number of benefits enhancements recently, including pre-tax health insurance premiums, long-term care insurance and lower retirement contributions. New Pay and Benefits Chief At the American University conference Wednesday, Thompson also said he supports President Bush's nominee to head the Office of Personnel Management, Kay Coles James. Bush officially nominated James to the top federal human resources job on Monday. At OPM, James will play a key role in the future of federal pay and benefits. James served in the first Bush administration as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Health and Human Services Department and as associate director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. She is currently at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, and previously was dean of the School of Government at Regent University, a Christian school founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. She has written two books, including a 1993 autobiography, Never Forget. Her biography is already on OPM's Web site. Bills on the Hill Recently introduced bills affecting federal pay and benefits include:

  • S. 768. Would improve retirement benefits for some Civil Service Retirement System employees who work part-time during at least part of their federal careers.
  • H.R. 1596. Would change the tax code for members of the uniformed services and the Foreign Service who sell their homes.
  • H.R. 1586. Would make some temporary work at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation count for retirement purposes.