Now you can take it to the bank: Federal employees will get an average pay increase of 3.1 percent next year.

President Bush locked in that figure yesterday when he signed into law the legislation that provides the raise -- the $137.6 billion spending bill for the departments of Transportation, the Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development for fiscal 2006.

One wrinkle still needs to be ironed out, however.

The federal pay raise always varies by geographic location. Later this month, Bush will issue an executive order delineating how much of it next year will come as an across-the-board increase and how much will take the form of locality pay, which varies by region.

If the White House follows the recommendation of the Federal Salary Council, an advisory group, federal workers in the Washington-Baltimore area would receive an average pay increase of 3.44 percent. Whatever the figure is, the raise takes effect in January.

In approving the raise, Congress set aside Bush's two-tiered pay proposal -- which called for a 2.3 percent raise for federal civilian employees and a 3.1 percent increase for the military -- and decided to award both groups the higher amount.

Federal employees, on average, have received an annual pay raise of at least 2 percent in every year but two since 1969, according to the Congressional Research Service.

-- Christopher Lee