- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

The press often reports ongoing stories — wars, elections, gasoline prices and even federal news — as if they were sporting events.

Doing so makes it easier, we journalists believe, for the public to understand the issues. It also adds drama to the issue and satisfies the secret urge of many reporters to be sports reporters.

With that in mind, let’s take the long-running story of the next federal pay raise and the next federal retiree/military/Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.

By law, federal workers, military personnel and retirees are due a raise in January.

When it left the starting line earlier this year, the federal pay raise was running at a 2.2 percent pace. That was the amount that President Bush designated as the January federal/military salary increase.

But now Congress, the odds-on favorite to win the federal pay raise race, has moved up the pace to 2.7 percent. It did that when a congressional committee approved the higher amount for military personnel.

That gives a goal to members of the House and Senate who advocate for civil servants. They will demand equal pay-raise treatment. If the track record of the past dozen years holds up, federal civilians will get the same amount as what goes to military personnel.

Despite the miles to go, legislative hurdles to clear and certain conditions that must be met, the 2.7 percent pay raise for both groups appears to be in the lead.

For federal retirees, retired military personnel and people getting Social Security benefits, let’s go to the boxing ring. Retiree raises aren’t subject to political or budgetary considerations.

Congress can’t KO the White House, and the president can’t produce a haymaker that will change the amount of the retiree raise.

Instead, the January cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for one in six Americans (people who get Social Security, civil service or military retirement benefits) will be determined in large part by the price of gasoline you put into your tank.

We can battle inflation, to some extent, by cutting consumption, walking to work or taking public transportation, but higher oil prices literally fuel inflation in nearly all sectors.

With five months (or five rounds if you are viewing this as a sporting event) left to go in the battle over inflation, the retired feds, military retirees and Social Security recipients are due a minimum 1.4 percent COLA in January.

That amount will go up, of course, if inflation continues to win each monthly round after round.

This time last year, feds were looking at a White House-ordered 2.2 percent raise while the military had been promised 3.1 percent. Congress did an end run (football metaphor) around the White House.

When the congressional buzzer went off, it resulted in a tie with both civilian feds and uniformed military personnel getting the same national adjustment of 3 percent. After locality pay was factored in, feds in the Washington-Baltimore area got a 3.44 percent increase.

Feds in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. — newcomers to locality pay — got the biggest increase, a 5.62 percent adjustment. Government workers in San Francisco-Oakland, Calif., got a 3.95 percent raise this year, and in New York, the adjustment was 3.77 percent.

The downside of locality pay was felt in places such as Kansas City, Mo., which got only 2.25 percent total.

Because Congress has won 13 of the past federal pay bouts, against Presidents Clinton and Bush, some would argue that the fight is fixed.

But unions, members of Congress and their handlers insist that the fight is on the level, and that the 13-0 record, all by a TKO, is the result of skill, stamina and clean living.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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