It never hurts to look ahead.

Under the federal pay formula, white-collar civil service employees would receive a 2.1 percent across-the-board raise in January 2006, a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

Members of the armed forces would be in line for a pay raise of at least 3.1 percent, according to a separate formula.

The pay formulas are based on the Employment Cost Index, which measures changes in labor costs, including salaries, health insurance and other employee benefits. For the 12-month period that ended in September, the BLS survey found an increase of 2.6 percent in wages and salaries of private-industry workers.

Under the pay formulas, which are set in law, the civil service raise is calculated by subtracting one-half percentage point from the ECI, and the military raise is calculated by adding one-half percentage point.

The government uses the September ECI as the starting point for the annual debates over federal pay, in part, because it provides an indicator that can be factored into budget plans as they are drawn up by federal agencies and the Office of Management and Budget.

But the ECI-based formula often is ignored by the White House and Congress as they negotiate the civil service raise. Congress, in particular, typically recommends pay raises that keep the civil service and the military on a somewhat equal footing -- what some lawmakers call "pay parity."

This year, for example, Congress is on track to provide the civil service with an average 3.5 percent raise next year, a full percentage point higher than called for by the pay formula and 2 points more than the 1.5 percent raise recommended by the White House in its fiscal 2005 budget.

Congress will return at mid-month to wrap up spending bills for the fiscal year, including next year's civil service pay raise. Congress approved in July, and the president signed in August, the appropriations bill for the Defense Department that includes an average 3.5 percent raise for the troops in 2005.

Thinking Positive

An Election Day poll of 1,000 voters found that 52 percent agreed that the nation needs a positive vision of how to make government more effective and that "the blame for government" lies with elected leaders, not federal employees. Twenty-seven percent disagreed.

The poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, was sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

"The post-election buzz is about 'values' and how they divide us, but one value that unites Americans is a belief in the potential of government as an instrument for good," said Max Stier, the Partnership's president. The majority of voters, he said, "want our leaders to lay out a positive vision for improving government, rather than engaging in 'bureaucrat' bashing."

Still, the poll found, 33 percent of people who voted for President Bush and 20 percent of those who voted for Sen. John F. Kerry (D) blamed "bureaucrats" for what is wrong with government.

Workforce Conference

David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, Paul C. Light, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Doris Hausser, senior adviser to the director at the Office of Personnel Management, will be among the speakers at the annual Federal Section conference of the International Public Management Association on Nov. 18 and 19 at George Washington University. The conference will be an opportunity to discuss the impact of the 2004 election on the federal workforce. Information is available at www.ipma-hr.org.

Talk Shows

Christopher Burnham, the State Department's assistant secretary, bureau of resource management, and chief financial officer, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Thanks to Federal Employees Who Are Veterans" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com