- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

If federal workers are confused about how much they are being paid, it’s not because they are math-challenged. They don’t know because the government still doesn’t know.

Feds got a 2 percent pay raise this month, courtesy of the White House, but Congress and feds said that wasn’t enough and argued that civil servants deserve the same percentage pay increase (4.1 percent) that was approved for military personnel.

Congress last year set out to get feds more than the president put in his budget, an end run lawmakers successfully completed last week for the second time under the Bush administration, after having done so seven times under President Clinton.

When the Senate finally approved a $328 billion appropriations bill Thursday that should have been passed in October and Mr. Bush signed it Friday, it contained an additional 2.1 percent pay raise for most civilian, nonpostal feds.

That means a whole new set of pay tables must be worked up, and payroll information updated to give feds both the new raise and to make it retroactive to the first pay period in January. Costly, yes. Complicated, yes. Time-consuming, yes.

But it’s more than a matter of computing another 4.1 percent on top of whatever salary individual feds now get for their grade and longevity step. That’s because the White House, having allocated 0.5 percent of the first 2 percent raise to locality pay, must go through the exercise again. The president must make another decision to determine how much — if any — of the 2.1 percent add-on raise will be set aside for locality pay.

Mr. Bush doesn’t have to increase the amount of locality pay, but there is a good chance he will do just that. If so, feds in the Washington-Baltimore area can expect an increase that will slightly exceed the average 4.1 percent.

Civil servants in cities where private-sector pay is judged to be higher — that includes San Francisco, New York and would-you-believe Houston — as usual will wind up getting larger raises, keeping their pay above their counterparts in Washington.

The bipartisan federal pay law of 1990 — enacted under President George Bush and effective first under Mr. Clinton — is slightly more complicated than the inner workings of the Mars rover. The pay law was designed to close or narrow the gap between private-sector pay and the government. That was to happen via a series of national/locality raises each January.

But Mr. Clinton and the current President Bush never gave feds the full amount due them under the formula established by the pay law. Congress has successfully boosted the amount each year, but the official pay “gap” — which many people believe is a mirage — exists.

Feds will know what their new city-by-city pay scales look like when the president issues an executive order implementing the congressionally mandated 2.1 percent add-on.

Bottom line: If you understand how the system works, it means you have not been paying attention. That’s because the folks charged with running the pay program — thanks to the normal White House-Congress pay fights and congressional delays — can’t anticipate the final numbers.


Many have asked whether they will get the add-on 2.1 percent raise. The answer is no. Reason: Retiree raises, including those for people who get Social Security, are linked by law to inflation. The cost-of-living adjustments are determined by the rise in the Consumer Price Index. Retirees already have received their raise, and that’s all they will get this year.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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