Congress and the White House moved expeditiously this summer to enact a defense spending bill for fiscal 2005 and provide the troops with a 3.5 percent pay raise next year.
At the Aug. 5 signing ceremony for the bill, President Bush pointed out that military pay raises over the past four years totaled nearly 21 percent. "This money is well earned, well deserved and well spent," Bush said.
But Congress, the Pentagon and the White House have shown less enthusiasm for another pay raise bill -- a proposal that would make up any shortfall in salary when a federal employee is called to active duty in the National Guard and the reserves.
The government is the largest employer of Guard members and reservists, and some members of Congress, mostly Democrats, think Washington ought to set an example for employers across the country.
Studies indicate that 30 percent to 40 percent of activated Guard members and reservists lose income when deployed. A Pentagon survey in 2000 found that most troops reported an income loss of $3,750 or less while on active duty. But some, about 7 percent of survey respondents, reported much larger losses, in the range of $37,000 to $50,000 annually.
Over the last two years, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and others have pushed various bills that would require federal agencies to make up the difference between civil service and military pay for those on military duty.
At one point, Durbin got the Senate to include his pay gap bill in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq and Afghanistan operations. But the amendment was stripped out of the spending bill in negotiations with the House.
Despite that rejection, the Durbin bill continues to inch along.
In July, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved Durbin's Reservist Pay Security Act. It would make up the difference between civil service and military pay for federal employees called to active duty and would authorize $100 million for retroactive pay for federal employees activated since Oct. 11, 2002.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Durbin bill would cost $152 million in 2005 and $334 million from 2005 to 2009. The provision awarding retroactive pay would account for $128 million of the estimated five-year cost.
Supporters of the Durbin and Lantos efforts point out that many companies and state and local governments offer a pay differential for employees who are activated for the Guard and reserves.
About 65,000 reservists are employed by federal agencies, and an additional 48,000 federal technicians are required to be members of the Guard as a condition of employment.
In its review of the Durbin bill, the CBO estimated that an average of 21,000 federal employees will be on active-duty military service in fiscal 2005, dropping to about 11,500 by 2009. This projection assumes that Iraq and Afghanistan would require a smaller commitment in coming years.
But efforts to close the pay gap faced by some mobilized federal employees have been rebuffed by the Defense Department.
In addition to concerns about the cost of the legislation, Pentagon officials have argued behind the scenes that making up differences in pay for civil service employees would undercut military morale. Essentially, officials fear that they could end up with a soldier and a reservist of the same rank in the same foxhole who are paid differently by the federal government.
Trudy Levy, associate chief counsel for litigation at the Federal Transit Administration, retired Sept. 3 after 26 years of federal service.
Jan Tharpe, who worked for 34 years at the Internal Revenue Service, retired Sept. 3.
Kent A. Womack, director of the Defense Department's leased facilities division, retired Sept. 3 after 37 years of federal service. The division oversees building management for Defense's leased space in the region.
Jennings Wong, a program analyst at the Interior Department since 1993, retired Sept. 3 after 35 years of federal service. In recent years, he served as a program manager at Interior's Center for Competitive Sourcing Excellence, providing technical direction and implementing OMB Circular A-76. He also contributed to the rewriting of the circular in 1996 and 2003.