- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

More than 450,000 of the government's 1.2 million white-collar federal workers will get a second pay raise this year, an additional 3 percent on top of January's 4.77 percent bump.
But this second, automatic longevity raise, known as Within Grade (WIG), will be grounded permanently if the Bush administration and congressional "reformers" have their way. They want to replace the longevity raise with a pay-for-performance system.
Regular January raises are required by law and based on a figure agreed on by Congress and the White House. The longevity raises are automatic unless the eligible employee gets an "unsatisfactory" rating and come every one, two or three years depending on how long an employee has been in one of a grade's 10 pay steps.
The January raises are well known here. They pump millions into the economy and trigger raises for staffers of groups, associations, trade unions and foreign embassies based here.
WIGs are largely unknown to the general public, which knows little, outside cliches and misinformation, about how the civil service functions.
Backers say WIGs are needed to reward deserving people who, for whatever reason, remain in grade through part or all of their career. They are also a financial safety valve for good workers who are on the bad side of their boss.
Opponents call them "Being There" raises because, they say, the feds get them for showing up and for not committing murder or high treason on the job. Or in the case of the Central Intelligence Agency's Aldrich Ames and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Robert Hanssen for not getting caught commiting treason.
Last year, according to the Office of Personnel Management, about 38 percent of the 1.2 million nonpostal federal work force got a WIG raise.
Bush administration officials (like the Clinton administration before it) want to substitute performance pay for the WIGs. They have bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and have started their "reform" effort sooner than the Clinton administration's abortive try.
Concepts such as performance-based pay have been around since the Second Hoover commission of the 1950s. But officials think the time is ripe to have the changes made. Agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Aviation Administration already have their own pay system, and others may follow.
Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James sounded the charge last December when she told a government pay and classification society that the federal pay program especially the part about automatic longevity raises "is a system whose time has come … and gone."

Beltway bandits
Contractors often cost more, do less and are less reliable than civil servants, the American Federation of Government Employees contends.
Grass-roots leaders of the union are in town this week to push their legislative agenda, which includes the so-called TRAC bill. It stands for Truthfulness, Responsibility and Accountability in Contracting.
The idea is to force agencies to keep tabs on what contractors cost, what they do, and why work isn't being handled in-house.

Pay us now
The National Association of Retired Federal Employees is recruiting young, active-duty civil servants with an interesting hook.
NARFE says the feds will pay higher taxes when they retire because they will lose a perk the ability to pay health premiums in pretax dollars available only to workers, not retirees. NARFE is pushing for legislation that would extend the benefit to retirees, saving the average person about $424 per year in taxes.


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