Bush to Raise Civil-Service Pay by 3 Percent

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, November 29, 2007

P resident Bush, in a letter to congressional leaders yesterday, said he will raise federal pay by an average of 3 percent next year, slightly less than what Congress is proposing.

Bush's announcement was triggered by a 1990 federal pay law, which set Friday as a deadline for a decision. Bush said he would provide 1.8 million employees covered by the General Schedule pay system with a base pay increase of 2.5 percent and an average "locality pay" supplement of 0.5 percent.

Congress, however, is on track to provide most federal employees with a 3.5 percent raise and will likely override the president's decision. The congressional pay proposal has been on hold for several weeks, trapped in crossfire between Congress and the White House over spending priorities for fiscal 2008.

"I am confident that when Congress returns next month to complete our legislative work for the year, we will secure the 3.5 percent pay raise that our hard-working federal workforce deserves," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader, said yesterday.

Bush recently signed a defense appropriations bill that provides for a 3.5 percent raise for the armed forces, though he began the year by proposing 3 percent pay raises for the military and the civil service.

Congress traditionally supports providing equal raises to the military and the civil service, and Hoyer said yesterday that he was "extremely disappointed that the president has rebuffed the principle of pay parity." He added, "Military and civilian employees work side by side to provide essential services to our nation, and their contributions ought to be adequately recognized."

Bush said turnover in government jobs is "very low" and wrote that "I do not believe this decision will materially affect our ability to continue to attract and retain a quality federal workforce."

If Bush had not sent Congress his pay plan, the 1990 law would have required him to give locality pay adjustments averaging 12.5 percent. Locality pay is added to the base pay of federal employees, and Congress envisioned that it would bring federal salaries more in line with private-sector pay. But the law has never been fully implemented, in part because of its cost.

Bush's letter to Congress said that adhering to the law would be too expensive. He exercised a waiver provided by the law, saying that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have caused a "national emergency" that continues to exist.

A full pay raise as called for by the law would cost $16.4 billion in 2008, or $12.7 billion more than the cost of a 3 percent raise, Bush said.

Providing the funds for a full raise "would force deep cuts in discretionary spending or federal employment to stay within budget. Either outcome would unacceptably interfere with our nation's ability to secure the homeland and pursue the war on terrorism," Bush wrote.

The Bush administration's formula distributes the largest share of locality raises to metropolitan areas where federal employees' salaries lag the most behind their nongovernmental counterparts', as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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