Senate sends 3.9 percent pay raise to President Bush

By Brittany Ballenstedt

September 29, 2008

The Senate on Saturday approved a bill that would give civilian federal employees a 2009 pay hike of 3.9 percent, moving the measure to President Bush for his signature.

The chamber voted for the raise as part of the fiscal 2009 Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2638) funding government through March 2009. The adjustment is 1 percentage point higher than the increase proposed by the Bush administration, which in February called for a 2.9 percent boost for civilian workers and a 3.4 percent increase for military personnel.

The 3.9 percent figure sent to the president is identical to the amount the House and Senate specified for members of the military in the fiscal 2009 Defense authorization bill (S. 3001), which also passed Saturday.

The pay hike would take effect on Jan. 1, 2009. A portion of the civilian raise would be allocated for locality pay; the rest would go toward an across-the-board increase.

Saturday's move drew praise from federal labor unions and management groups, which have been lobbying for parity between civilians and military members and for a raise higher than the president's request.

"I applaud Congress for approving a fair and adequate pay raise for federal employees in 2009," said Darryl Perkinson, president of the Federal Managers Association. "The 3.9 percent raise sends the message that the work they do for our nation is to be valued and rewarded."

Perkinson added, however, that the passage of the stopgap spending measure would force the Social Security Administration, which provides benefits to 60 million people, to operate on fiscal 2008 funding levels. With a backlog of more than 767,000 requests for disability hearings, he said, an increase in funding is necessary to hire additional staff and bring processing times to less than 500 days.

"The ongoing lack of adequate staffing levels and resources have directly contributed to the backlog," Perkinson said. "For the next six months, and possibly the remainder of fiscal year 2009, SSA will be forced to take a step backwards, instead of moving forward. Simply put, the American people deserve better service."

Meanwhile, the National Treasury Employees Union praised a provision in the measure that calls for an additional 1,373 Customs and Border Protection officers, 834 more than the administration requested.

"Staffing levels at our airports, land border crossings and seaports must be increased to ensure CBP can meet its mission of securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

The measure also would provide $200 million to continue a law enforcement benefits program for CBP officers. The enhanced retirement benefit took effect July 6 and received $50 million for fiscal 2008. The Bush administration proposed repealing the program in its fiscal 2009 budget request.

Additionally, the continuing resolution would prohibit the Homeland Security Department from implementing a new personnel system.

By Brittany Ballenstedt

September 29, 2008