The House Appropriations Committee had been at work for about five hours when it took up the federal pay raise for 2005. After a flurry of debate, the committee, in a bipartisan vote, acted to provide civil service employees with a 3.5 percent raise next year.
Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) sponsored the pay raise amendment, which was approved 42 to 16. Twenty-five Democrats and 17 Republicans voted for the amendment, turning aside a Bush administration plan that called for a 1.5 percent raise.
The amendment would provide the raise to the government's white-collar and blue-collar employees. The amendment also stipulated that the raise would go to employees at the Defense and Homeland Security departments, which have announced plans to move to new pay systems that probably will link pay raises to job performance evaluations.
If past years are a guide, the committee vote effectively locks up this year's pay raise debate. Senate appropriators usually go along with the House committee's decision.
Hoyer introduced the amendment, invoking "pay parity" with the military as the primary justification. Congress is on track to provide the military with a 3.5 percent raise next year, and Hoyer said Congress has provided equal pay adjustments to civil service and military employees in 17 of the last 20 years.
Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (Okla.), the GOP manager for the fiscal 2005 transportation and treasury spending bill, objected to the higher raise. Reps. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) also spoke out against the amendment.
Istook, Northup and Tiahrt said a vote to more than double the raise in the president's budget would force agencies to set aside $2.2 billion to cover added payroll costs. "Frankly, this is eating up the money we say we want to have for other purposes," Istook said.
Federal pay raises since 1996 have significantly outpaced inflation, even though the government has had no trouble filling jobs, Istook said.
But Wolf passionately defended the pay raise amendment, pointing out that the first person killed in Afghanistan in the war against terrorism was a civilian employee, a CIA agent. Wolf cited several agencies -- including Defense, Homeland Security, the FBI and the Secret Service -- that ask employees to put themselves in harm's way.
Other civil service employees, from narcotics agents to foreign aid workers in Sudan, also take risks or suffer hardships, Wolf said.
Moran said a higher pay raise was appropriate for federal employees because of increases in health insurance premiums and because the downsizing at agencies in the 1990s has increased the workload of many employees.
Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) supported the higher raise for the civil service, but he cautioned against trying to equate the sacrifices made by civil service employees and military personnel. There is no way to compensate military families for their sacrifices, he said, in part because they have to move every few years, disrupting the education of children and making it difficult for spouses to pursue careers.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, played a quiet but important role in yesterday's debate. He voted for the amendment and remarked to his colleagues at one point during the debate that he expected it would be approved by the committee.
In his opening remarks, Hoyer noted that the amendment was also being offered on behalf of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the civil service.
Davis played a leading role in a pay debate earlier this year when he organized support for legislation that put the House on record as in support of parity increases. That vote was 299 to 126.
Dinah F.B. Cohen, director of the Defense Department's computer/electronic accommodations program, will discuss the Americans With Disabilities Act on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.
Michael Montelongo, the Air Force's assistant secretary for financial management and comptroller, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
"At HUD, 'Faith-Based' Gospel Singing?" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).