Ten thousand senior federal executives, judges and political appointees find out within the next 18 days whether they will get pay raises or have to wait two more years for upward paycheck mobility.
Congress has until the end of the month to deal with a sticky political problem. The problem is that Congress is due double-barrel raises amounting to nearly 13 percent unless it alters, or kills, the amount. It directly effects thousands of senior civil servants here since their raises are tied to the pay fortunes of Congress.
(Thousands of Capitol Hill workers also are anxious about the congressional pay flap. They are due the same 7 percent next month as other civil servants. But these raises are dependent on the say-so of the members of Congress, and the members usually are more amenable to passing out raises if they have received raises of their own.)
Congress got into the bind last year by declining the 5.5 percent general pay raise for federal white-collar workers. Now it is raise time again -- this time 7 percent -- and congress is faced with the prospect of getting a 5.5 percent 1978 raise and a 7 percent 1979 raise.
Cabinet officers are pushing Congress to take some kind of raise -- either 1978's, 5.5 percent, or 1979's 7 percent -- so they can boost their own senior executives. Most of them have been frozen at the $47,500 level for more than two years.
If Congress fails to okay some kind of raise for itself (or at least let the upper-level feds have one), it probably will shelve any pay raises until at least October 1981. Theory is that Congress won't touch pay raises next year, one month before the November 1980 elections.
Carter administration officials desperately want a top-level federal pay raise this year. They fear that hundreds of their best people, career and political, may quit or retire unless some relief from the pay freeze is forthcoming. (Federal retirees next month get a 6.9 per cent raise, their second cost-of-living adjustment this year).
Compression is almost as big an issue as pay raises. Because of continuing pay freezes, thousands of federal executives at different grades get the same $47,500 pay. The 7 percent general increase in October will add thousands more subordinates to the same pay level as their bosses.
Senior Executive Service members cannot get raises unless Congress lifts the pay lid. Most were promised around $51,000 when they signed up. But they cannot get new rates approved by the president unless Congress raises the federal salary ceiling. And that won't go up unless congressional pay does.
Las Vegas odds-makers probably would not take bets on what Congress will, or won't, do about the pay situation.
In June the House voted to limit pay raises for itself to 5.5 percent. That is part of the legislative branch appropriations bill, the money to run Congress. But it got cold feet and killed the entire package because of the pay issue.
The bill is back before Congress, this time with a 7 percent congressional pay limit. What will happen is anybody's guess. But something must happen before Oct. 1 and that is right around the corner.