Pay Raise Malaise

Federal workers are up in arms over President Bush’s proposed 1.5 percent raise for civilian federal employees in his fiscal 2005 budget.

Federal workers are up in arms over President Bush's proposed 1.5 percent raise for civilian federal employees in his fiscal 2005 budget.

According to Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, the 1.5 percent is designed to cover inflation. Beyond that, Bolten said President Bush wants pay adjustments for federal workers to come out of the Human Capital Performance Fund-with raises going to those who are "working real hard, performing terrifically."

With $300 million allotted in the budget proposal for the performance fund, OMB officials say that the civilian pay raise should actually be counted as 2 percent.

Military personnel, meanwhile, were awarded a 3.5 percent raise with no mention of a performance fund. The Pentagon already has significant flexibility in its pay structure to reward top performers and address staffing needs, according to an OMB spokesman.

The White House proposal to de-link military and civilian raises stands little chance of making it through Congress. Before and after the proposal was released, a lengthy and bipartisan roll of lawmakers took a public stand for pay parity. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, have both called for equal pay increases for military personnel and civil servants-as Congress has provided in 16 of the past 18 years. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that he "will fight for the principle of pay parity" in 2005. All four Washington-area senators-two Democrats and two Republicans-support pay parity. The House delegation from the Washington region is planning to introduce a "Sense of Congress" resolution on the issue.

The number of lawmakers who have come forward in favor of the White House proposal? Zero.

Those lawmakers are pushing for equal pay increases because they say disparity sends the wrong message to many federal workers. In his own words, Bush is proposing a 3.5 percent military pay increase because, "Our troops put their lives on the line to defend America, and we owe them our best in return."

But hundreds of thousands of civilian federal employees are actively involved in defending the nation as well. Federal employees in the Homeland Security and Defense departments, the CIA, the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also work to "defend America" every day, federal labor union officials pointed out.

"It sends a lousy message to us, and for any federal employee," said Charles Showalter, an immigration inspector and a vice president-at-large of the American Federation of Government Employees. "Specifically for the guys in homeland security."

Showalter said that he is already seeing an exodus from federal law enforcement agencies to better paying local and state agencies. That means, he said, that the Homeland Security Department will be forced to rely on younger immigration inspectors. "How do you expect to have a force defending our borders if they only have two or three years under their belts? They don't have the experience."

Many federal employees who are not involved in homeland security are also unhappy about Bush's proposal, judging from the angry e-mails they have sent to Government Executive. As in previous years, their outcry is more likely to be heard on Capitol Hill than in the White House.

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