House Members Fight for Pay Parity

Hoyer expressed disappointment in the 2.2 percent raise for civil servants.
Hoyer expressed disappointment in the 2.2 percent raise for civil servants. (By Jay Mallin -- Bloomberg News)
By Stephen Barr
Monday, January 22, 2007

The annual jousting over federal pay has begun.

Nine Washington area House members, led by Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), plan to send a letter to President Bush today urging him to recommend equal pay raises for the civil service and the military in his fiscal 2008 budget.

The House members ask the president to "embrace the principle of pay parity," which the letter describes as a bipartisan approach that has been followed nearly every year for the past two decades.

Hoyer, in a statement released with the letter, said he was "very disappointed" by this year's "inadequate raise of only 2.2 percent, the lowest increase in nearly 20 years," and suggested that Bush propose a more generous raise for next year.

"I would hope the president plans to include in his fiscal year 2008 budget an increase that will make up for last year's unacceptably low pay adjustment," Hoyer said. "Not only do our federal employees deserve fair pay, but with an aging population and a looming human capital crisis, now is the time to deliver the message that this nation values its federal workforce and will commit to recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest."

The House members who joined Hoyer in signing the letter are Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

That list of lawmakers underscores that the raise is an important ingredient in the local economy. The Washington-Baltimore region is home to about 11 percent of the 1.8 million civil service workforce. The federal payroll was about $19.8 billion in the region last year, or about $76 million per day.

The Bush administration has balked at providing equal pay adjustments to the civil service and the military, contending that across-the-board raises fail to properly reward high-performing employees and hinder agencies that need to pay more for difficult jobs and specialized skills.

But Congress has mostly adhered to its pay parity tradition for the two segments. Some members of Congress have indicated that they prefer to see how the new civilian pay-for-performance systems work out at the Defense and Homeland Security departments before giving more discretion to federal agencies.

Congressional committees considered giving the civil service a 2.7 percent raise this year, but the proposal faded in late 2006 when the Senate could not resolve numerous disputes over fiscal 2007 spending bills. At the urging of the Pentagon, Congress approved a 2.2 percent raise for the military with higher raises permitted for mid-career officers and enlisted personnel in certain occupations. Bush later issued an executive order providing the civil service with a 2.2 percent raise this year.

The president's recommendation for next year's raise will come in his fiscal 2008 budget, which is scheduled to go to Congress on Feb. 5.

Under a 1990 federal pay law, government employees would be in line for a 2.5 percent raise next year. But the formula, based on data from the Labor Department's employment cost index, which measures wage growth, is not always followed by Congress or the White House.

The size of the 2008 raise may hinge on efforts in Congress to hold down spending and reduce the federal deficit. Still, some members of Congress may recommend a bigger raise than usual for the armed forces to recognize the toll that the Iraq fighting has taken on the troops and their families.

The decision on the raise, which usually comes late in the year as Congress wraps up appropriations bills, also will ripple across the area's nonprofit organizations and companies that use the federal raise as a benchmark when setting salaries.

In their letter, the House members said they see pay parity raises as key to keeping federal compensation as competitive as possible with the private sector. In addition, they said, an equal pay raise will send the message that all government employees are highly valued.

"As we fight the war on terrorism at home and abroad, both the armed forces and the federal civilian workforce are integral to fulfilling the role of government for the American people," the letter said.

Stephen Barr's e-mail address

© 2007 The Washington Post Company