Senior government executives may learn today whether they will be in the running for the 2 percent January pay raise due rank-and-file federal workers, or whether the executives will be included in an election-year pay freeze Congress may impose on itself.
The fate of the executive pay increase, covering about 10,000 career and political appointees, is just one item in the confusing budget drama before the Senate. Other benefits on the table include the size of lump-sum payments for federal retirees and a fast-fading proposal to freeze within-grade (seniority step) raises for white-collar federal workers.
Congress is racing to come up with a specially tailored deficit reduction plan that will pump confidence into the sagging stock market without resorting to more drastic across-the-board budget cuts that would hit many more federal programs.
Insiders now believe there is a good chance Congress will reject earlier plans to freeze the within-grade raises for employes, reduce lump-sum pension payments and limit the size of the 1988 cost-of-living adjustment due retirees. The Reagan administration had proposed to limit future retirees to one-half the lump-sum payment now available.
If those cost-cutting plans fall by the wayside, as seems likely, the credit belongs to postal and federal unions, management groups and the giant retiree organization that mounted an unprecedented round-the-clock lobbying effort to protect benefits. In place of those and other cuts proposed earlier, Congress may settle on a plan that would save the same amount of money by requiring the U.S. Postal Service to make major cost-cutting efforts this year and in fiscal 1989.
But the executive pay raise, Congress-watchers say, is up for grabs. It hinges on whether the Senate approves its own language limiting the freeze to members of Congress, or goes with an already-approved House plan that would impose the freeze on anyone earning $72,500 per year and possibly even lower-paid members of the Senior Executive Service.
If the Senate comes up with its own language, the issue will go to a House-Senate budget conference. If, however, the Senate accepts the House language, that would rule out a conference on the issue and in effect slam the door on 1988 raises for senior government workers along with members of Congress.
The Senior Executives Association is fighting to keep its members eligible for the 2 percent January pay raise. The Office of Personnel Management also has asked that senior government personnel be allowed to get the raises, even if Congress freezes itself. Both argue that it would be unfair for a congressional pay freeze (brought on by election-year jitters) to cover career employes.
Many members of Congress are worried because a January 1988 raise would be their third pay increase in a 12-month period. In January of this year federal workers, including members of Congress and senior executives, got a 3 percent raise. In April a special executive raise of 16 percent went to members of Congress, with SES members getting about 2.5 percent.