Federal career executives in the office of the secretary of defense and some other parts of the Pentagon will receive a retroactive pay raise, according to a Defense Department memo.

The memo directs the Defense offices to comply with a March 11 law that reminded the department that raises should be based on merit and without regard to whether executives are political appointees or career civil servants.

In January, some political appointees in the executive ranks at the Pentagon received a 2.5 percent pay raise, while most career executives with similar job ratings of "fully successful" received a 2 percent raise.

How many executives will receive a retroactive raise and the cost of the raise could not be determined yesterday, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

The amounts of the individual raises probably are not large, but critics contended that the Pentagon was sending the wrong message to employees by appearing to favor political appointees. The critics also said the Pentagon was not following rules published by the Office of Personnel Management last year on how to handle 2005 executive raises.

One of the critics, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), sponsored a provision in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, signed into law in March, that forced the Pentagon to provide retroactive raises to affected career executives.

The Defense memo, noting that "this pay increase is required," directed Pentagon offices to "process these retroactive 2.5 [percent] pay increases immediately" and to notify Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, when they have been completed.

In addition to requiring the retroactive raises, the Levin provision bans raises in the future based on a person's career or political status.

The Pentagon had justified the higher raise for political appointees on the grounds that they occupy some of the most senior positions in the department, are ineligible for bonuses and did not get the 2004 pay raise in a timely manner.

But Levin and others said that reasoning was not consistent with Bush administration changes in the government-wide pay system for the Senior Executive Service that called for raises to be linked to performance measures.

Until last year, the government's 6,000 SES members received the same pay raise each year. Now, raises are supposed to be determined according to a rigorous job performance rating system operated by each agency. Federal executives are no longer guaranteed a raise and do not receive locality pay.

The Bush administration, which sought congressional approval to make the SES changes, has proposed creating a similar system for other civil service employees. Bush officials and congressional aides have met to discuss "civil service modernization," and legislation revamping federal pay practices may be introduced within the next few weeks.

The Senior Executives Association, which represents the interests of career federal executives, had protested the initial decision at Defense to give slightly higher pay raises to political appointees in the SES than to career SES members.

"We are delighted that Senator Levin pushed for the inclusion in the bill of this provision and that the Department of Defense has taken this action to pay its career senior executives in the same manner as their non-career executives," William L. Bransford, the group's general counsel, said.

"Hopefully, federal agencies will only use performance to make pay decisions, not political status," he added.

An Anniversary Conference

The Excellence in Government Conference, an annual event focusing on public management and leadership issues, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Speakers for this year's conference, scheduled for July 25 to 27, include Michael Chertoff, secretary for homeland security; Mike Johanns, secretary of agriculture; Jim Nicholson, secretary for veterans affairs; Alexis M. Herman, the former Labor Department secretary; and Charles O. Rossotti, the former Internal Revenue Service commissioner.

Patricia McGinnis, president of the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government, will moderate a question-and-answer session with Linda M. Springer, the new OPM director.

For more information, go to www.excelgov.com.

TSP on Diary Live

Gary A. Amelio, executive director at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, will take questions and comments on the launch of "lifecycle funds" in the Thrift Savings Plan at noon tomorrow on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com