IF THERE are some glares in the air in certain
federal-military offices these days, they may stem from the different financial rewards that appear in the offing for civilian federal employees and their military colleagues--especially when the two may be doing identical work in the same agency. Just as Uncle Sam's white-collar civilians are resigning themselves to no more than a 4.8 percent annual raise this go-around, along comes Congress with plans for either an across-the-board 14.3 percent increase for everybody in the armed forces or a scale that would raise them by 7 to 22 percent.
Certainly there are some justifiable differences between the salaries of civilians and soldiers. But when it comes to calculating pay increases for people in both groups, should there not be a little more equity and a lot more selectivity? Instead of setting indiscriminate across-the-board pay levels, rates of pay for military as for civilian employees should be more closely tailored to skills and recruitment needs.
That may not happen right away. But there is an immediate opportunity for Congress to get a start on a more sensible system for the military. A House-Senate conference is about to begin working out a compromise between two military pay proposals. Neither is all that perfect, but the Senate measure would offer a sliding scale of pay increases designed to encourage experienced officers and enlisted men to stay in the services. Though the percentage increases in both Senate and House versions outstrip the 4.8 percent proposed for white- collar workers, the Senate approach deserves the conferees' support.
The House proposal, approved Tuesday, is not only expensive but indiscriminate: it would hand out a 14.3 percent pay increase for everyone in the military on Oct. 1. This version accepts the administration's contention that the biggest military problem is recruitment. But Senate military experts, as well as many House members, make a persuasive case that keeping trained men and women is more critical.
The retention of trained people is important and economically sensible. Ideally the Senate approach would be refined to concentrate on selective raises aimed at both recruiting and keeping people with skills that are in short supply. But this step is not before the conference. For now--in the interest of a stronger military and cost-conscious taxpayers--the conferees should agree on a range of pay increases that might top off below the Senate's peak of 22 percent, but would incorporate sliding scales.