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Senate panel backs 1 percent raise for federal employees

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A Senate committee last week took the first firm step in Congress toward paying federal employees a raise in January, approving a defense funding bill that would provide a 1 percent pay increase for both civilian and military personnel as recommended by the White House.

“The civilian workforce has faced many challenges over the past several years,” says a report on the bill by the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The last pay raise was in 2010. In 2013, the Department took specific action to release temporary employees, freeze hiring, and furlough most of its civilian workforce due to sequestration.

“The Committee recognizes the critical role that the civilian workforce plays every day in ensuring the mission success of the Armed Forces. The Committee is increasingly concerned over the impact of these challenges on the Department’s ability to maintain a stable, effective, right-sized civilian cadre. Therefore, the Committee fully funds the 1 percent pay raise for civilian employees as requested,” the report says.

The bill, which will not reach Senate floor voting until September at the earliest, is the first of the annual appropriations bills moving in either chamber to specifically endorse a federal pay raise. Most of the bills for the upcoming budget year have been silent on the issue; several bills in the House say that “should the President provide a civilian pay raise for fiscal year 2014, it is assumed that the cost of such a pay raise will be absorbed within existing appropriations.”

Unlike in recent past years, the House this year has not voted to deny a raise. While the Senate bill specifically addresses only the Defense Department, approval of a raise for federal workers there could set the course for the rest of the government.

In a series of similar comments on the appropriations bills, the administration has said it “urges the Congress to provide the proposed 1.0 percent pay increase for Federal civilian employees. As the President stated in his [fiscal year] 2014 Budget, a permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable.”

Federal employee pay rates were not raised in 2011, 2012 or 2013. Some employees have had their salaries frozen for that entire time while some have received raises for performance, on promotion or on advancing up the steps of a pay grade.

Meanwhile, employees of some agencies have been put on unpaid furloughs in recent months following budgetary sequestration, reducing their salaries for the affected pay periods. That includes most DoD employees who are in the middle of a scheduled 11 days of furloughs; the Pentagon has continued to hold out hopes of reducing that number, as some other agencies have done.

President Obama has the authority under federal pay law to issue an order that would set a raise by default in the absence of action by Congress. Such an order could be issued this month, although a law enacted later that sets a different figure or continues the freeze would override it.