Salary Council Recommends 2.5% Raises, Plus Premiums

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, October 4, 2007

Most federal employees should receive at least a 2.5 percent pay raise next year and a supplemental raise that would vary according to local labor-market conditions, a federal advisory panel recommended yesterday.

The Federal Salary Council recommended that President Bush approve the across-the-board raise of 2.5 percent to the nearly 1.8 million federal employees covered by the General Schedule. In addition, the council said the employees should receive "locality pay" increases based on a comparison of nonfederal and General Schedule salaries in 32 areas across the nation.

The size of the 2008 pay raise probably will not be known until Congress and the White House settle the matter later this year. Bush has recommended a 3 percent average salary increase, and Congress has drafted legislation to set the raise at 3.5 percent.

The salary council urged Bush to distribute the largest share of the locality raises to metropolitan areas where federal employees are the most behind their nongovernmental counterparts.

That approach usually works to the advantage of federal employees in Washington, San Francisco, Boston and other high-wage cities. This year, for example, federal employees working outside large metropolitan areas received a 1.81 percent increase in base pay and locality pay, while Washington-Baltimore employees received a 2.64 percent increase.

The president's pay advisers have struggled for much of the past decade over the methodology used to compare federal and nonfederal salaries, as required by a 1990 law that envisioned making federal pay more competitive with private-sector salaries. The law has not been fully implemented because of cost and concerns about the methodology used to determine the pay gap.

Overall, federal pay is 23 percent lower than nonfederal salaries, the council was told yesterday.

The council is the administration's adviser on locality pay. It is chaired by Terri Lacy, a Houston lawyer. Members include George Nesterczuk, a management consultant and former administration official, and representatives of unions, including Richard N. Brown of the National Federation of Federal Employees, J. David Cox of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Flying High

Some federal travelers may get grounded, or at least sent to the back of their planes, if they cannot justify their first-class and business-class trips to agency auditors.

As reported by The Post's Christopher Lee yesterday, investigators for the Government Accountability Office found numerous examples of agencies that sidestepped or inconsistently applied federal travel rules.

Most government employees follow the travel rules. But GAO investigators concluded that 67 percent of "premium" -- first-class and business-class -- travel was unauthorized, unjustified or both during the 12 months that ended in June 2006. Improper premium travel cost taxpayers at least $146 million, the GAO said.

Behind that cost were some interesting nuggets turned up by the GAO. For example, presidential appointees with Senate confirmation and senior-level executives accounted for 15 percent of the premium-class travel while making up about one-half of 1 percent of the federal workforce.

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