AFTER SEVERAL self-conscious stabs at giving themselves a pay raise, members of the House yesterday decided against the 7 percent solution, voting 208 to 203 to hold members of Congress as well as one unlucky group of top-level executive salaries to 5.5 percent. However much you think Congress should be giving itself, those federal executives whose pay continues to be tied to congressional raises are getting unfairly squeezed in several ways. Many of these people have had no increase for 2 1/2 years; yet each general raise in the federal scales -- including a 7 percent increase that takes effect in October -- pushes more people against the ceiling, causing more inequities.
Meanwhile, the effect of that 7 percent general pay increase for federal employees will be to put still more pressure on local budgets around the region -- for the favorite numbers game of local government employees revolves around Uncle Sam's pay-increase figures. Employee unions in the District and the suburbs already are stepping up their demands, even though local officials insist that revenues simply are not available to meet the federal 7 percent figure, let alone the 5.5 percent that the administration used to talk about. But should the local governments be trying to match federal rises?
Both of these problems presented by federal pay-raise decisions are examples of why the U.S. system should be overhauled, as the Carter administration has proposed. City and county administrators in charge of most of the 71,000 local-government workers in this region have endorsed the Carter plan to change the methods used to set pay rises. Though the local politicians are reluctant to support any proposal that might mean smaller pay increases for their constituents, the administrators point out that the federal system for computing comparability with private industry tends to inflate the figures.
Alexandria City Manager A. Douglas Harman, who has headed a special regional committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that has been studying this question, says local governments have trouble getting and keeping top-quality workers because the federal government winds up paying "much more" for people doing "essentially the same work." Among other things, the Carter plan would count the value of federal fringe benefits in comparing "total compensation" with industry; it also would begin comparing federal pay rates with those of some 12 million state and local government workers around the country, which elsewhere are generally lower. But until Congress tackles the whole federal pay system or until the administration brings inflation down (whichever comes first -- and don't hold your breath) local government officials in this region are going to have their fiscal hands full trying to respond to their employees as well as their taxpayers.