Obama’s budget calls for pay raises; federal workforce size would remain flat

February 14, 2012

President Obama wants to give raises to people collecting federal paychecks, but in his new budget proposal, troops would get a larger pay boost than civilian employees.

The White House budget plan released Monday would increase federal civilian pay by a modest 0.5 percent, a bump that would end a two-year cost-of-living pay freeze. Uniformed military personnel would receive a 1.7 percent raise in 2013, the increase indicated by law, according to the proposal.

The budget also calls for federal workers to increase their contribution to their retirement program by 1.2 percent over three years.

“A permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable,” Obama’s proposal said.

During the two-year freeze, which Obama ordered in late 2010, eligible federal employees have received within-grade step increases for advancing through levels of the General Schedule pay system. Republican lawmakers have targeted those within-grade raises, which average $2,000, as a way to cut federal spending.

Federal employees and union leaders expressed tepid support for the pay raise Monday, noting as they often do that lower pay levels could deter potential applicants from seeking federal employment or encourage current workers to look for jobs in the private sector.

In addition, making workers pay more out of pocket for retirement “will have a serious impact on the retirement security [that] federal employees were promised,” National Federation of Federal Employees President William R. Dougan said in an e-mail to reporters.

A federal employee earning $50,000 annually would have to pay an additional $600 each year into his or her retirement account, without any change in benefits, Dougan said. “In the wake of a two-year pay freeze, which effectively cut workers’ pay by thousands after inflation, another $600 bill to pay would be difficult to bear.”

Patricia Niehaus, national president of the Federal Managers Association, said that in proposing separate wage increases for civilian and military employees, Obama is ignoring legislative precedent on giving equal raises to both groups. “Pay parity” is justified, Niehaus said, because “civil servants and their military counterparts often work side by side to ensure the safety of our country.”

The budget proposal also projects that federal employment levels will remain essentially flat in fiscal 2013, growing by 0.1 percent, or 2,400 employees, to 2.1 million from the 2012 estimated level. That figure is not a head count but rather a measure of work-year equivalents that includes part-time and seasonal workers. It does not include postal employees. The 2011 actual level had about 7,600 fewer positions. Though the federal government is the Washington region’s largest employer, about 85 percent of the workforce lives and works beyond the Beltway.

Among Cabinet departments, only four are projected to see job growth of more than 1 percent: Veterans Affairs is slated to get 4,300 new positions because of increased demand; 1,400 are expected for the Department of Homeland Security, mostly for airport and border security; and fewer than 1,000 new jobs are planned for the Justice Department for new federal prisons.

The Treasury Department would add about 3,600 positions, mainly to handle an uptick in tax enforcement, which the administration called “an investment that more than pays for itself.”

Staff increases are also projected for programs that rely on fees, rather than tax revenue, including food safety protection, financial market regulation, and the Patent and Trademark Office. The additional positions would be offset by small losses at a number of agencies, most notably 7,500 jobs — about 1 percent — at the Defense Department. Employment at the Agriculture and Interior departments would fall by about the same percentage.

Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
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