The 4.94 percent pay raise that Washington-Baltimore area federal workers get next month is a result of months of hammering by Republicans and very skillful public lobbying (and some private intrigue) by Democrats.

The raise didn't just happen.

The White House announced yesterday how the government would divide next year's "average" 4.8 percent pay raise for federal white-collar civil servants, confirming that it would--as anticipated here Oct. 29--grant a 3.8 percent nationwide pay raise and earmark an additional 1 percentage point for locality pay adjustments.

When the math is done, it will mean a 4.94 percent increase for nonpostal federal workers in this area. Under the locality pay formula, civil servants in San Francisco and Houston will get the highest increases, 5.59 percent and 5.52 percent, respectively. Those in cities like Norfolk and Kansas City, Mo., will get the lowest amount--4.69 percent. White-collar federal employees in Philadelphia will get 5 percent, and those in Richmond will get 4.76 percent.

In his budget, President Clinton--who has shaved federal pay raises every year since taking office--proposed a 4.4 percent pay increase for January 2000. That seemed to be a done deal.

But in the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) insisted on a 4.8 percent raise for military personnel in 2000. Warner and Stevens also have relatively high percentages of civilian federal workers in their states.

Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, launched a drive for equal treatment for white-collar civilians. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) did the same thing on the House side. He also kicked the legislative field goal that made the difference.

To give some political muscle to various nonbinding resolutions that urged the same 4.8 percent January raise for civilian and military personnel, Hoyer inserted the 4.8 percent pay raise into the Treasury-Postal Service-General Government Appropriations bill. He got backing from area House members--Republican and Democrat--who depend on the civil service vote.

Hoyer, ever polite in public went one step further, according to administration officials. He secretly wrote Clinton (and the Office of Management and Budget) strongly suggesting that at least 1 percentage point of the "average" 4.8 percent raise go to locality pay. The idea was to give Washington-Baltimore area federal workers an above-average raise. Putting a chunk of the total raise toward locality adjustments gives more to federal workers in cities with the biggest federal vs. industry "pay gap."

Although he took his time deciding, the president took Hoyer's advice on how to split the "average" 4.8 percent raise so that it works out to 4.94 percent for Washington area feds.

The seemingly small differences in the pay raises--from the proposed 4.4 percent to an actual 4.94 percent--is in fact a very big deal indeed.

Federal retirement benefits are pegged to salary and length of service. And they are based on the employee's highest three-year average salary. For someone under the Civil Service Retirement System (which covers the vast majority of retirement-age federal workers) retiring at age 55, after 30 years of service, the annuity would equal about 55 percent of the employee's final salary under the high-three computation.

In addition to pension benefits, salary also determines how much workers can invest on a tax-deferred basis in the federal 401(k) plan and the amount of any government match they receive. Under the CSRS system, workers can invest 5 percent of salary. Under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System, workers are allowed to invest 10 percent of salary. FERS workers also get an automatic 1 percent of salary from the government and can receive a match of as much as 5 percent. Next year, the ceiling on individual contributions to the federal thrift savings plan--and all other 401(k) plans--will go to $10,500. This year it is $10,000.

Life insurance is also pegged to salary. Each pay raise increases the value of an individual's basic coverage.

Pay raises also increase the value of unused annual leave that employees are allowed to cash in at retirement. For instance, an employee retiring Dec. 31 will be able to cash in the maximum amount of unused annual leave and be paid for it at next year's higher rate. If that retiring employee works in the Washington area, the unused annual leave will be worth 4.94 percent more.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

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