Federal executives now earning $47,500 will get double-dose October pay raises of between $5,400 and $8,200 unless Congress or the White House slaps a new lid on government salaries.
Those maximum increases amount to 11.4 percent for career supergraders (in Grades 16 through 18) and 17.3 percent for employes who volunteer for the new higher pay, higher-risk Senior Executive Service. The SES was created by President Carter's civil service reform law to make top-levels of the bureaucracy more responsive and flexible in term of pay, rewards and assignments.
Most of the nearly 10,000 top executives due the raises -- about 8 out of 10 -- work in the metro Washington area.
These pending increases, although legally overdue in many cases, would shatter the president's voluntary 7 percent wage-price guidelines, a fact that has caused the Council on Wage and Price Stability to break out in a cold sweat.
Rather than allowing the two back-to-back executive raises in October, insiders expect Congress and the White House (for both political and public relations reasons) will limit top government personnel to a single pay raise of about half the amount due them. Those single increases at maximum would amount to $2,600 (5.5 percent) for regular "supergrade" employes, and $5,300 (11.16 percent) for SES members placed at the top of their new grade structure.
This is a very complicated situation, so bear with this explanation:
Many U.S. executives have been frozen at the $47,500 pay level for a couple of years. This despite government data showing that Grade 18 personnel, at the top of the bureaucratic totem pole, are in fact already due more than $61,000 to put them on par with private industry.
Despite that data, and the law requiring so-called "comparability" between government and industry pay, Congress and the White House in the past have put Iids on rank and file pay and limited executives to smaller raises or nothing at all.
The first pay raise due executives this year will come when a congressional spending limit on government top pay expires at midnight Sept. 30. At that time, top pay for career supergraders will go to a new ceiling of $50,100 -- unless, of course, Congress extends the lid. That $50,100 level is the amount top executives were entitled to last year, but were denied through a pay freeze.
The second pay raise would go into effect around Oct. 7. It would be the 5.5 percent raise President Carter has proposed in his budget. That would push the upper limit for career federal pay to $52,900.
SES members, in the first round of pay raises, would go from the present $47,500 ceiling to $52,800 at the maximum. That would be followed a week later by the "comparability" raise of 5.5 percent, setting the upper limits for the SES (which has six pay levels) at $55,700. Other federal workers would get the 5.5 percent raise, although under a full "comparability" increase with industry they could expect up to 10 percent.
Insiders believe politics and the economic situation will cancel out one of the executive pay raises, even though both Congress and the White House agree that they legally are overdue and should under law be paid.
If the second, 5.5 percent raise in October is denied federal executives, it still would move them up from $47,500 to $50,100. SES members put at the top of their pay system would go to $52,800.
A lot of people, inside and outside government, think the federal pay-fixing machinery is a mess. Some think top bureaucrats (at $47,500) already are paid too much through a system they help operate. Maybe. And maybe not.
It is too bad that the issue of top pay for people who manage multibillion dollar programs, cannot be debated and then set logically and without political or PR considerations. Don't expect that to change this year.