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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Racing the Clock

It's only July, but federal employees already are looking forward to the pay boost they may see come January.

The House and Senate Appropriations committees have passed their versions of the fiscal 2009 financial services spending bill, which contains the federal pay hike. Both versions would grant federal civilian employees a 2009 raise of 3.9 percent. That figure is equal to the adjustment already authorized by the House for military service members, and is higher than the increase proposed by the Bush administration, which in February requested a 2.9 percent hike for civilians and a 3.4 percent boost for military personnel.

But for federal employees to see the gain in their paychecks at the start of 2009, a number of steps must be completed. The full House and Senate must pass the spending bill, and then the chambers will have to work out differences in the two versions. After the conference committee reaches agreement, each chamber must pass the final version and President Bush will have to sign it.

This year, however, there may be a catch. Lawmakers are aiming to leave town in late September to return to their districts and campaign, so it appears unlikely that Congress will be able to finish work on all 12 annual appropriations bills before adjourning. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a lame duck session after the November election was unlikely, and he predicted lawmakers will have to pass a stopgap measure to fund the government until the new president takes over.

If Congress implements a continuing resolution and doesn't specify a 3.9 percent pay increase for federal employees, it's likely that President Bush's recommendation of a 2.9 percent pay increase will go into effect. That was the case for the 2007 pay raise, when Congress failed to enact an appropriations bill, including its proposed 2.7 percent pay, and Bush issued an executive order putting his recommendation of a 2.2 percent raise into effect.

It is possible that the pay raise could be approved by Congress after the end of the year, however, in which case federal employees would receive part of their raise retroactively. This happened in 2003 and 2004, when workers received their raises at least three months late.

A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that regardless of how the House proceeds with 2009 appropriations, "Hoyer and the regional delegation remain focused on securing a 3.9 percent pay raise for both military and civilian federal employees."

While we "would like to see the 3.9 percent pay raise enacted in January, there have been situations in the past when the higher pay raise supported by Congress has been implemented retroactively," Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Tuesday. "If the 3.9 percent raise is not included in the continuing resolution, NTEU will push for retroactivity to Jan. 1, 2009."

Paperless Pay

Federal employees are now one step closer to having the option of receiving electronic pay stubs.

A bill (H.R. 6073) passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday would allow federal employees to receive their pay stubs via e-mail rather than through standard mail.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., sponsor of the measure, sent a letter to House lawmakers in May noting that many private sector companies and state governments offer electronic pay records. This ensures on-time delivery of payroll information, she wrote. The information also is less susceptible to identify theft because the electronic stubs do not include private information such as Social Security numbers or home addresses, she added.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the oversight committee, said Wednesday that paper pay statements add unnecessary administrative costs.

Reporter Portrait for

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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