House Panel Approves Higher Civilian Raise Than Bush Wanted

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A House Appropriations panel yesterday approved a 3.9 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees next year, a significantly larger increase than President Bush had sought.

Lawmakers on the financial services and general government subcommittee adopted the pay provision as part of the $22.4 billion fiscal 2009 spending bill approved by voice vote to fund the Department of Treasury, the District of Columbia and many independent agencies. The raise for 1.9 million federal workers matches the 3.9 percent hike approved by the House for military personnel in May as part of the Defense Department authorization bill.

The Senate has not yet taken up the civilian pay question, but the House panel's action sends a strong signal that a 3.9 percent average raise ultimately is likely to be adopted by Congress. A final resolution won't come for months, though, when the appropriations process concludes.

The pay raise would take effect in January.

"Our federal civilian employees' hard work helps our federal government meet the needs of all Americans," said Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee chairman. "They need and deserve to have their pay reflect their efforts." The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union applauded the vote yesterday.

Federal salaries are an important part of the Washington area economy. The civil service payroll for the region is expected to be $30.1 billion this year, a figure that does not include the military, intelligence agencies and the U.S. Postal Service.

In February, Bush proposed a two-tiered federal pay increase: a 2.9 percent average raise for civilian workers and a 3.4 percent increase for members of the armed forces.

A bipartisan group of Washington area lawmakers had urged him to defer to the tradition of "pay parity," granting equal raises to civilian and military personnel. The lawmakers cited the civil service's role in fighting terrorism through agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

Bush aides have argued against linking the raises, noting that the military gets an across-the-board increase, while civil service raises vary somewhat from region to region, depending on labor market conditions. Susan Bryant, a spokeswoman for the Office of Personnel Management, said yesterday that the administration stands behind its proposal.

But House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the panel's vote for equivalent raises "is an important way to reward these hardworking individuals who make such invaluable contributions to the growth, prosperity and protection of this nation."

Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

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