The countdown on federal pay begins tomorrow.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet on a spending bill that traditionally sets the pay raise for federal employees. As in past years, Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) will offer an amendment that would provide a larger raise in 2006 than recommended by the White House.

President Bush proposed a 2.3 percent raise for civil service employees and a 3.1 percent raise for military personnel in his budget. Congress is on track to approve the military raise, and key Washington area lawmakers are urging their colleagues to support "pay parity" for the civil service.

Hoyer sent a letter last week to Democratic members of the Appropriations Committee reminding them that he will need their votes tomorrow. Wolf also is contacting members on his side of the aisle, his spokesman said.

In the letter, Hoyer wrote that he will offer an amendment for a 3.1 percent raise tomorrow when the committee takes up the fiscal 2006 spending bill. He pointed out that Congress has provided identical raises to the military and the civil service in most years over the past two decades.

Last year, 17 Republicans joined 25 Democrats to approve a parity raise. But pay votes are never sure bets, and the Bush administration will be lobbying House members to stick with the president's proposal because some agencies face tight budgets next year. Because appropriations meetings can run for several hours, committee members often come and go from the room as they conduct other business, and sometimes they miss votes on amendments.

Hoyer, in closing his letter, said that "the [pay] amendment will need the support of all 29 Democratic members for it to prevail if a roll call vote is requested." He asked that Democrats who might not attend the meeting give him a phone call.

No Deal Between Unions

The National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees appear to be going their separate ways at the Customs and Border Protection bureau in the Department of Homeland Security.

NTEU has withdrawn a request at the Federal Labor Relations Authority that would have created joint NTEU-AFGE representation of Customs and Border Protection employees. The bureau was created in the 2003 merger of the Customs Service (where NTEU was the primary union), the Immigration and Naturalization Service (an AFGE stronghold) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (where two unions represented employees).

With no agreement, union leaders said they expect the labor relations authority to call an election before year's end that will leave it to Customs and Border Protection employees to decide which union should represent their interests. NTEU represents about two-thirds of the bureau's staff, said Colleen M. Kelley, the union president.

Last year, the department told the labor relations authority that it wanted to reduce the number of union contracts at Customs and Border Protection because of the agency consolidations and the reclassification of key jobs at ports and border crossings. The department's petition intensified coalition talks between NTEU and AFGE that had started the previous year.

Kelley said the coalition talks broke down because the unions operate differently in the field and in how they represent employees. John Gage, AFGE president, said primary sticking points involved which union would control bargaining teams and take charge of litigation.

"We couldn't make the deal," Gage said. "So it looks like here we go to an election, which will eat up resources and hurt both unions."

Issues and Answers

Major voices in the debate over the future of the civil service will participate in a panel discussion tomorrow led by Patricia McGinnis, president of the Council for Excellence in Government.

The panel features Clay Johnson III, a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget and a chief architect of the administration's federal workforce policies; David M. Walker, comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office; and union leaders Gage and Kelley.

The forum is one of several being sponsored by the council and The Washington Post. For more information on the forum, go to