There is new pressure on President Carter to give federal workers an October pay raise substantially higher than the 6.2 percent he has budgeted.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government's 1 million white-collar workers are due a minimum increase of around 9 percent this year just to keep pace with wage gains for similar jobs in industry.
The BLS says that white-collar professional, technical and clerical pay in industry rose an average of 9.3 percent between March of 1979 and March of this year.Clerical pay in the private sector is up 8.8 percent, according to BLS.
During the same 12-month period, BLS reported that the cost of living, as measured by the official consumer price index, jumped 14.7 percent.
The BLS study is the basis on which federal pay experts determine the amount of the October "comparability" (with industry" pay raise.
By law, federal white-collar workers are supposed to get comparability increases each fall unless the president submits an alternate plan for a lesser amount, and Congress does not block it.
Although Carter technically has until late August to submit an alternate pay plan, the budget he submitted to Congress in January calls for a 6.2 percent raise for white-collar federal civilians, including 300,000 workers in the Washington area.
Last year the president initially proposed a 5.5 percent raise. But at the last minute he granted an average 7 percent increase effective in October. tEven so, the raise was well below the 10.4 percent "comparability" figure his pay agents said was justified.
In his budget message, Carter conceded that federal workers this year would -- under the comparability law -- be due an increase larger than the 6.2 percent he proposed. But the president asked Congress to approve a sweeping "reform" of the federal pay-setting system, reforms which he said would produce an October raise of around 6.2 percent.
Under the "reform," which Congress has not passe, the government would compare its wages and fringe benefits against the total compensation package over in the private sector. The thinking is that federal fringe benefits -- especially retirement -- are better than those offered in industry, and this would result in smaller raises for government employes.
Congress has shown little interest in pay "reform," and many members have objected on grounds that the reforms would substantially reduce raises for government workers in their districts.
Unions representing federal workers say that the reforms Carter wants would give the president almost unlimited power to set future raises at any level he chose, based on the selective use and interpretation of data such as the BLS survey.
Carter administration officials counter that the general public has little confidence in the present federal pay-fixing system. They have hinted that without "reform" this year, the president might be under heavy political pressure from GOP challenger Ronald Reagan to give federal workers less than the 6.2 percent Carter has tentatively proposed.
Pressure from federal workers, unions and the new BLS data could make it tougher for Carter to hold down their raises, unless the administration decides to run an anti-bureaucrat campaign that kisses off the federal employe vote.
It will be sometime next month before the president's pay agents digest the BLS data and his political advisers decide whether to take the high or low road toward a federal pay raise.
But the fact that the BLS data shows a 9 percent industry jump (not counting any catch-up due feds from last year) and a 14.7 percent inflation rate could put more pressure on the White House to grant a bigger federal pay hike this October which is, after all, only one month before the election.