Battle royal over federal worker pay

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 10:37 PM

All that Wednesday's House hearing on federal pay needed to be complete was an announcer with a booming voice asking the packed room, "Are you ready to rumble?"

Instead, Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-Fla.), chairman of the federal workforce subcommittee, called the session to order with the familiar bang of the gavel.

But it didn't take long for things to get hot.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, perhaps gearing up for a run at the Senate seat now occupied by fellow Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch, vigorously challenged Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on savings expected to be generated by the two-year federal pay freeze - a freeze Republicans might seek to strengthen by including certain increases that are now exempt.

Dispensing with the polite approach to witnesses he displayed as a freshman last year, Chaffetz sharply insisted the freeze would not save money because employees can still get bonuses, awards and "step" increases based largely on longevity. Later, James Sherk, a policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, snidely called the step increases "social promotion for adults."

Like a tag team in a pro-wrestling match, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took over Chaffetz's line of pointed questions and assertions after a break for a vote on the House floor.

"The truth is, there will be pay increases throughout this [freeze] process," said Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Berry pointed out that awards amount to less than 2 percent of payroll and that even without including awards and step increases, the freeze will save $28 billion over five years.

"The pay freeze for two years is a real sacrifice," Berry said.

But not enough for Republicans.

"I think we have to correct the pay freeze issue," Ross said after the hearing.

He expects legislation will be introduced to include the step or "within grade" increases in the freeze. Another option that he said would be considered is basing retirement income on the top five years of federal pay instead of the top three.

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