Federal employees will get a pay raise in January. But for now, that's about all that can be said.
Because of a deadlock over fiscal 2003 spending priorities, the government will remain on a "continuing resolution" through Jan. 11. The CR, as it's called, permits agencies to spend at 2002 levels. Congress turned to the CR when it became apparent that the lame-duck session would not send any more appropriations bills to the president.
One of the stalled bills -- for the Treasury Department, the Postal Service and general government operations -- would have provided a 4.1 percent pay raise to General Schedule employees next year. The bill was approved by the House but never got to the Senate floor.
That failure, in turn, has delayed and complicated resolution of the pay issue. But federal pay law provides a few guideposts, and Washington area House members signaled yesterday that they are not giving up on the pay raise.
Under federal pay law, government employees will receive at least a 3.1 percent increase in their basic pay in January. That's guaranteed, according to experts on federal pay.
The law also requires a "locality pay" adjustment for General Schedule employees, based on private-sector wage changes in the metropolitan areas where they work.
President Bush has until Nov. 30 to make a decision on the locality adjustment. He could leave the total raise at 3.1 percent, he could designate the locality raise at 1 percentage point for a total of 4.1 percent as Congress apparently intended, or he could choose a higher figure.
House Republican aides said the pay raise was not added to the CR moving through Congress yesterday because it could have forced cash-strapped agencies, which are on fiscal 2002 budgets, to furlough workers or begin layoffs.
Given disagreements between Congress and the White House over spending, the GOP aides declined to predict when the budget impasse would be broken. One aide said the government might be forced to operate for the rest of fiscal 2003 on a CR, with any agency budget shortfalls covered by supplemental spending bills.
In an effort to ensure that federal employees receive a 4.1 percent raise, a bipartisan group of area House members yesterday said it would press for the salary increase when the new Congress forms in January.
Three of the lawmakers, Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), said they had been assured by Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that he would support such a raise, retroactive to Jan. 1.
"I appreciate Speaker Hastert's support for a 4.1 percent pay adjustment for federal employees in 2003," Wolf said.
Hoyer said that he had discussed the issue with Hastert and that "I am optimistic that we will be successful in securing a 4.1 percent pay adjustment for federal employees in January . . . and that the pay adjustment will be retroactive to the beginning of 2003."
Davis said, "We will not allow the federal employees charged with defending our homeland to fall victim to the appropriations process."
Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) joined in calling on Congress to approve a 4.1 percent raise in January.
Hastert's spokesman declined to comment, saying he was not aware of the details of the conversations among the lawmakers. He noted that Hastert supported a budget resolution this year that included the pay raise.
Civil service employees are not the only ones left in pay limbo.
Federal judges are supposed to receive a 3.1 percent raise next year, but it could fall through without special action by Congress before it adjourns, Leonidas Ralph Mecham, secretary to the Judicial Conference of the United States, warned yesterday.
Congress promised judges an annual raise in 1989 legislation, and failure to provide a raise next year would be "an injustice," Mecham said in a memo to lawmakers.
Letter Carriers George Gould, legislative director of the National Association of Letter Carriers, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. tomorrow on federalnewsradio.com.
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.