Obama Budget Would Limit Pay Raises for Civilian Workers, Military

President Barack Obama is promising to slash federal spending by $2 trillion, even as the administration initially invests large sums of money to revive the faltering economy. Video by AP
By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009; 5:20 PM

The federal civilian workforce would be limited to a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal 2010 under the proposed budget released this morning by the Obama administration.

The administration described the proposed increase as reflective of the current economic crisis and bringing federal pay and benefit practices more in line with what workers in the private sector are experiencing.

But the proposal would give civilian employees a smaller pay raise than the 2.9 percent it would grant to uniformed military personnel. And it quickly ran into opposition on Capitol Hill, where House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would raise the issue with the Obama administration.

"While it's to be expected that during this time of shared sacrifice there will not likely be a federal employee adjustment equal to last year's level, we must continue to adhere to the long-standing bipartisan principle of pay parity," Hoyer said in a statement.

Hoyer said he would work with Obama to "ensure a fair and equal adjustment for both our military and civilian personnel who work side-by-side to protect our nation and keep our government running."

The budget summary released this morning notes that Obama has ordered a freeze of White House senior staff pay. "In this budget, federal employees also will be asked to do their part," the summary states.

The proposed increase compares with a 3.9 percent increase for federal workers in 2009 and 3.5 percent in 2008.

The 2 percent pay proposal represents the administration's target increase for the entire 1.8 million-civilian federal payroll. Individual workers could get more or less based on their locality, or on whether or not they receive promotions.

The president of the American Federation of Government Employees said the union was not happy with the size of the proposed increased but understood the rationale for it. "We recognize the severity of our nation's economic situation, including the crisis for public workers at the state and local level, and understand that only modest steps can be taken this year to close the remaining pay gap between the federal and non-federal salaries," said AFGE President John Gage.

But Richard N. Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, was more critical and said his group would push Congress for a larger pay increase.

"Even in this economy, 2 percent is a very small increase for workers that are already paid well below those doing similar work in the private sector," he said.

Brown also objected to civilian workers drawing a smaller pay increase than uniformed personnel under the budget plan.

"We are baffled by the large disparity in the proposed pay adjustments for civilian federal workers and military personnel," he said. "Civilian federal employees often work side-by-side with military personnel and are in their own right critical to maintaining our military readiness and homeland security."

Further criticism came from the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers. "We understand that these are tough times, but we are very concerned about breaking the historic linkage of civilian and military pay parity," said Colleen M. Kelley, the union president.

"We want to find out why these pay raise numbers came out the way they did, and what went into the analysis regarding pay parity," Kelley added. "We also want to know what other proposals the administration will be pursuing this year that will affect federal workers." The 2.9 percent pay increase for the military is described in the budget summary as reflecting "the priorities of an administration that is committed to caring for the service members who protect our security and the families who support them."

Last year, military personnel received a 3.9 percent pay increase, half a percentage point more than President George W. Bush recommended.

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