Although the Senate and House have taken sometimes widely differing approaches this year to federal personnel issues, a key spending bill advancing in both chambers shows some areas of agreement—including no movement, at least for now, toward granting a federal employee pay raise in 2013.
The next step for the annual key spending bill on employee issues is set for Wednesday when the full House Appropriations Committee is to consider the financial services-general government appropriations measure that a subcommittee approved earlier.
Both that bill and one passed by the counterpart Senate committee last week are silent on a raise for federal employees in general. However, the Senate version would specifically bar high-level political appointees from getting a raise in 2013 even if other federal employees receive one.
During the Senate committee’s debate, no amendment to either set or prohibit a general raise was offered. While an amendment could be offered in the House committee to provide a raise, such an effort would be facing a House Republican majority that already has voted several times this year against increasing pay rates.
A move to provide a raise to be paid in January could yet be made later in the budget process, however.
Also, under a complex federal pay law, President Obama later this year could order an increase in the absence of action by Congress, potentially the 0.5 percent he recommended in his budget proposal of earlier this year. A later law rejecting a raise or setting some other figure would override that order.
Federal employee pay rates were frozen for 2011 and 2012 at 2010 levels, although individual employees still can receive raises on advancement and for performance. The House already has passed several other spending bills whose funding levels reflect an assumption that there will be no raise; the White House has objected to them. The full Senate has not yet passed any of its bills.
Both bills would continue two long-running requirements affecting the U.S. Postal Service: that it must deliver mail six days a week; and that it cannot use funds in the bill to close small post offices. Those provisions, along with new Senate language limiting closings of mail processing plants, set off a dispute in the Senate committee over whether such restrictions would undercut a broader postal reform effort that could allow USPS to make cutbacks in each of those areas under certain conditions.
Both bills also reflect the fallout from the General Services Administration conference and awards spending scandal.
The House bill would require GSA’s administrator to certify that conference costs are appropriate, would require frequent and detailed reporting of how GSA is spending its money, and would cap spending on employee awards at 2010 levels. It also would require all agencies funded by the bill — in addition to GSA, other central management agencies plus independent financial regulatory agencies and the Treasury Department — to report on how well they comply with laws and rules on travel, conferences and employee awards.
The Senate bill meanwhile would bar affected agencies from spending more than $100,000 on a conference without approval from the agency’s second in command, and would allow conferences costing more than $500,000 only in exceptional circumstances as determined by the head of the agency.
The two versions split on some other issues, however. For example, the Senate would continue a several-year ban on starting new studies that could result in federal jobs being converted to contractor performance, while the House would lift that ban. The Senate version also would bar the use of employment caps on the federal workforce of the sort that have been proposed in various House bills, including in a budget outline that passed that chamber.
The Senate also would cap total compensation for contractor employees, including pay, bonuses and other forms of compensation, at the value of the President’s salary, $400,000.
The Senate bill further would boost the IRS budget, with the additional money targeted to improved customer service and enhanced tax law enforcement, while the House would keep IRS funding at current levels. The Senate also supports higher levels of funding for several financial regulatory agencies to enforce Wall Street reforms.