Kansas City, St. Louis and Orlando hang in locality pay limbo

Federal employees in three metropolitan areas may see smaller salary increases than they are accustomed to in 2005 if locality pay recommendations from the Federal Salary Council are adopted by the Bush administration next month.

In late October, the council, a panel of government officials and federal union leaders, recommended that employees in and around Kansas City, St. Louis and Orlando, Fla., lose their special locality pay and instead be included in the "Rest of the U.S." locality pay rate category. That rate applies to all federal workers in the 48 contiguous United States who are not covered by higher rates in 31 metropolitan areas.

According to a senior Office of Personnel Management official, surveys in Kansas City, St. Louis and Orlando show that the pay gap for federal employees in those cities is less than the "Rest of the U.S." pay gap. Since 1994, eight cities-Albuquerque, N.M., New Orleans, Norfolk, Va., Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Tampa, Fla.-have either lost their locality pay designation or have not been declared a separate locality pay area because their pay gap numbers fell below those of the "Rest of the U.S." category, according to the council.

On Oct. 28, the council sent its recommendations to the President's Pay Agent, a group that includes OPM Director Kay Coles James, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten. The pay agent will review the council's recommendations and send a proposal to the president by Nov. 30.

Each year, dozens of federal officials from across the country petition the salary council for higher locality rates, but the council usually declines their requests. Only seven areas have been granted higher salary rates since 1994.

This year the council recommended that federal employees in several areas, including Barnstable County, Mass.; Monroe County, Fla.; Larimer County, Colo.; Carson City, Nev.; Grant, Ind.; Kent, Del.; San Joaquin, Calif.; and Morgan County, W.Va., be included in nearby locality pay areas, thereby raising their locality pay rates above the "Rest of U.S." average.

Employees from Barnstable County have petitioned for years to be added to the Boston locality pay area. They won approval from the council last year, only to be turned back by the pay agent, which concluded there wasn't enough evidence to show that agencies in the county were experiencing serious staffing problems.

President Bush is expected to make a final decision on locality pay in December.