S hould federal employees in the National Guard and reserves take a pay cut when called to active duty?

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) don't think so. They have introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to pay employees the difference between their civil service and military wages while on active military duty. Similar legislation is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.).

About 30 percent of military reservists work for the government at the federal, state and local levels. In the federal sector, about 65,000 reservists are employed by agencies; an additional 48,000 federal technicians are required to be active members of the National Guard as a condition of their government employment.

Congressional efforts to make up the difference in pay have stalled in the past. Opponents point out that joining the Guard and reserves is voluntary and that federal employees who volunteer are responsible for understanding the financial implications associated with active-duty status.

Mikulski, however, argued last week that times have changed, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. "Many have been called up almost continually for the past year and a half," she said. "When they are activated, they are often given little warning and rarely know for how long they will be activated."

She added, "This places a tremendous burden on their families, including the emotional burden of long periods of separation and the financial burden of losing pay and even losing businesses. We need to support our troops."

A report from the General Accounting Office released last week shows that 41 percent of reservists reported income loss during mobilization or deployment, while 30 percent reported no change and 29 percent said their income increased. The report provided no data specifically on income loss or gain for activated federal employees.

The GAO report was based on data collected before operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom, which were launched by the Defense Department in 2001 for homeland defense and the war against terrorism.

Some private-sector employees make up the difference between civilian and military pay for their mobilized employees, but the practice varies considerably, GAO said.

A sampling of employers showed that more than half provided health care benefits and more than 40 percent provided pay benefits that go beyond what is required by a 1994 law designed to protect the job rights of reservists. But GAO cautioned against reading too much into the survey results because only a small number of employers were queried.

The Reserve Officers Association of the United States, which surveys benefits provided by Fortune 500 companies, recently reported that 105 companies are providing a pay differential this year, up from 75 in 2002 and 53 in 2001. Some companies provide a full salary, and some provide a combination of salary plus a differential. The duration of the benefits ranges from as little as 10 workdays to the entire time that an employee spends on active duty.

While some companies show "dramatic increases in financial benefits" for reservists, other companies, starting Sept. 11, 2001, have adopted a practice of reexamining benefits for reservists on a regular basis "with extensions initiated if need is determined," the Reserve Officers Association said.

Retirements

Dale Duvall, chief financial officer in the Veterans Affairs Department office of acquisition and materiel management, will retire March 31 after 21 years of government service.

Doug Smith of the Customs Service Applied Technology Division will retire March 28 after 31 years of federal service.

Federal Diary Live

Please join Donald F. Kettl, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of public affairs and political science, at noon tomorrow on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com to discuss President Bush's leadership and management style.

Kettl, who has written about Al Gore's "reinventing government" initiative, is the author of a new book, "Team Bush: Leadership Lessons From the Bush White House."

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com.