A political time bomb that Congress keeps deactivating, then rearming, is ticking again. It may go off in the faces (and pocketbooks) of top government executives this October when they are supposed to be getting a pay raise.
Most of the government's 9,000 top paid career and political managers live and work in the Washington area. Along with their 300,000 white collar subordinates here, they are due a catch-up-with-industry raise in the fall.
But this is 1978. An election year. And October comes before November which is when every member of the House, and one of every three senators, must face the voters. Members of Congress , for obvious reasons, don't like to anger the home folks by getting a pay raise just before an election. And that could spell trouble for top-level government workers.
Federal supergraders, those employees in Grades, 16, 17, and 18 or their pay equivalents ($42,423 to $47,500) are accustomed to seeing their pay frozen, then take big jumps, then go back in the deep freeze because of politics. This may be the year they go back into the deep freeze.
Two years ago just before the last election, Congress rejected a pay raise for itself. It kept the salary lid on top government career pay in the process. After the election, members (with the backing of President Carter) agreed last February to accept a 29 per cent pay increase. At that time the pay of some long "frozen" federal executives jumped 25 per cent. But most got less because they were already at or near the pay ceiling that is now $47,500.
Since it got a 29 per cent raise in February, Congress cut itself (and top government executives) out of the October, 1977, raise for rank-and-file government workers. That increase was for 7 per cent, so Congress came out very well on the deal. But in doing that, Congress voted to cut itself back into the regular annual federal pay raise cycle. That would normally mean members of Congress would get whatever other civil servants get in October, 1978.
But jitters over a new congressional pay raise before an election, already are sufacing. And there will be moves in Congress to block the October raise for members of Congress. If that happens, Congress could allow federal supergraders to get the October raise. Or, it could follow practice and block them from getting all - or part - of the raise, which may be in the neighborhood of 6 per cent.
(The exact amount of the October, 1978, general federal pay raise will be set by President Carter based on his interpretation of the amount needed to keep government workers "comparable" with salaries paid people doing the same work in industry. That increase will be made on the basis of salary data from private industry that is now being gathered by the Labor Department).
It will be mid-summer, probably, before Congress decides what to do about the politically dangerous pay raise pending for it. And it will be months before government executives learn whether they will get the full amount of the October increase, part of it or none of it. But veteran pay eatchers aren't advising any upper level executives to spend the money before they get it.
You can expect to hear and read a lot, in coming months, about over-paid bureaucrats. That is standard procedure in an election year when most Washington-based politicians find it convenient to rediscover their roots and run against Washington.
This week, for example, U.S. News and World Report magazine notes that nearly 1 of every 5 civil servants in the Washington area makes $30,000 or more a year. Actual federal figures show that about 18 per cent of the government employees here earn that much, or more. While those salaries don't seem so staggering to many Washingtonians, they do make an impression - generally a negative one beyond the beltway.
Federal Books: Government workers who like to browse through old and new federal publications will have a new book store to check out beginning Jan. 26. That is the opening day for the Government Printing Office outlet at Health Education and Welfare's North Building.
Claire T. Palmor is the new direction of media services for the Civil served with ACTION, Consumer Prod-broadcast journalist in Georgia and joined the government in 1965 with the old OEO. Since then, she has act Safety Commission and Housing and Urban Development.