There is a very good chance federal workers will be frozen out of any sort of pay raise this year. That is right: The amount could be zero. Nothing!
The government's million-plus white collar civil servants (300,000 of them here) are due a regular catch-up-with-industry raise this October. But they may get an IOU instead.
The Carter Administration may present opponents of its federal pay "reform" plan with an all-or-nothing proposition: Take pay reform this year, and a 6 percent raise, or do nothing and federal workers will get nothing.
(Each one percent increase in federal and military pay costs about $500 million. So we are talking about billions of dollars here).
Under the present system Uncle Sam uses to set raises for white collar employes (based on matchup with industry rates) government workers are due an October boost of about 11 percent. Administration officials say there is no way -- no way -- they will get that much.
If Carter's pay reform plan is adopted (it matches the value of federal pay and fringes against industry pay and benefits) the October raise would come out to about 6.2 percent. But if Congress fails to act on reform this year, Administration officials say there is a good chance he will propose a total freeze on federal pay. Congress has already tentatively agreed to freeze its own salaries, so the idea of cutting other government workers makes good political sense beyond the Capital Beltway.
Call it blackmail. Call it politics. This is the scenerio described by some top administration officials:
July: The Republicans nominate Ronald Reagan.
August: The Democrats nominate Jimmy Carter.
Inflation is still a problem. The economy is the pressing political issue. Reagan is a hard-liner against federal spending, and bureaucracy in general. Carter will have to move to the political right to some degree. He will need gestures and actions that promise solutions to inflation. Send the voters a message that the government is holding the line.
"Carter is going to be under great political pressure," an aide said yesterday. The pressure will be to go with a zero increase. Federal unions who think they can beat back 'reform' and maybe get a 7.5 percent raise (under the minimum national wage guidelines proposed by the president) are kidding themselves. They will be lucky to get the 6.2 percent." And, he says, there is only one way to get that. Reform.
If Congress buys the reform package in time to cut the proposed raise to 6.2 percent or thereabouts, the aide said the president would "be hard-pressed to give them less. After all it would be the reform we've asked for. We would go to Congress and the voters and say 'look, this is a fair raise . . ." But if there is no reform, he said, it is "very likely" the president would take the politically popular course (not popular here, but most other places) "and go with a zero raise."
Tough news, but these are tough, politically supercharged days.