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Senate Panel Advances Feds’ Pay Raise in Bill That May Also Increase Perks for Hack Victims

Democrats will attempt to offer an amendment that beefs up services for those affected by the OPM data breach.

Another group of lawmakers declined to block a pay raise for federal employees next year, increasing the likelihood nearly all civil servants will receive the 1.3 percent salary bump recommended by President Obama.

The Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Wednesday approved its fiscal 2016 spending bill, which was silent on the pay raise for federal workers. The appropriations measure is typically the vehicle through which Congress can insert itself into the pay raise process. Absent any action from lawmakers, Obama will be able to move forward with his suggested pay increase.

The financial services bill funds the Treasury Department, Executive Office of the President, General Services Administration, Office of Personnel Management, the Judiciary, District of Columbia, Small Business Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission, and several other independent agencies. The House version of the bill was similarly mum on the civilian pay raise. The measure was scheduled to come before the full House last week, but those plans were scuttled due to a lingering debate over the display of the confederate flags at national parks.

If there is no specific legislative language that provides funds or prohibits an across-the-board raise in any appropriations bills -- either stand-alone or omnibus legislation -- then the president has the authority to determine a pay raise based on the Employment Cost Index.

The president has until Aug. 31 to formally announce his 2016 pay raise proposal for federal employees. If the president doesn’t inform Congress of his alternative pay plan for feds by that date, then the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act kicks in. Under FEPCA, the raise would be determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent. For 2016, that is around 1.8 percent.

Presidents, however, largely have ignored the FEPCA formula in their federal pay raise proposals, preferring to offer their own figure, which they are allowed to do under law. Congress created FEPCA, which provides an annual across-the-board salary boost and a locality pay adjustment for General Schedule employees, to close the public and private sector pay gap.

The financial services bill slashes funding dramatically across the agencies covered under its purview, cutting a total of $1.1 billion compared to fiscal 2015 and providing $4 billion less than the White House’s request. Much of those savings -- $470 million -- come from the Internal Revenue Service.

While Obama’s proposed pay raise went untouched, Democrats denounced the bill for its “woefully inadequate” funding levels and policy riders that “have no business on an appropriations bill.”

The Office of Personnel Management was a rare agency that made out relatively well in the spending measure, with appropriators adding $24.3 million to its fiscal 2015 funding. The agency is expected to ask Congress for additional funding to pay for the benefits that have been or will be provided to the 22.1 million individuals affected by two hacks of personal information maintained by OPM.

OPM announced on Tuesday it would ask agencies to pitch in for the costs associated with credit monitoring and other services being offered to the 21.5 million individuals affected by the hack of background investigation data, but it is already facing pressure to instead get all of that funding from Congress. The American Federation of Government Employees said if Congress declines to boost OPM’s appropriation, Obama should use contingency funds from national security accounts to pay for the benefits.

Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee will attempt to use the financial services bill as a means to ensure better protections for federal employees affected by the hacks than OPM is currently offering. Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she would attempt during a full committee markup of the legislation on Thursday to attach an amendment to provide feds who had their personal information exposed in the hacks with at least 10 years of free credit monitoring and $5 million in liability protection for related damages.

“Very sensitive information has been stolen,” Mikulski said. “Social Security numbers, financial data, fingerprints, mental health status and work histories. It’s as outrageous and unacceptable as it is devastating. And it’s permanent. Their vulnerability will not dissipate over time.”

OPM has promised three years of a “suite of services” to victims of the background investigation hack. Mikulski said she will also introduce a separate amendment to provide an additional $37 million to “accelerate the completion of scheduled improvements to network systems and IT infrastructure.”

“I will not rest until we get the best protection possible for every person affected and our cyber shields are up and effective,” Mikulski said. 

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