- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

Federal workers, postal employees and retired civil servants all have worked for the same government, but their pay and pension adjustments vary widely, with the gap growing each year.

The differences are determined mainly by whether raises are political, based on Congress, are from mandated cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) or are from a union contract. If you guessed that the feds under the politically controlled system are the losers, you guessed wrong.

White-collar federal workers can expect a minimum pay raise of 3.1 percent in January. It will be more if locality pay raises are factored into the equation, as is usually the case. Under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, the president recommends raises to ensure salary parity with the private sector, and the raises require congressional approval. Both Presidents Clinton and Bush have recommended lower raises each year, and in every case, Congress has sweetened the amount.

Meanwhile, those who complain about a pay gap between government jobs and their industry counterparts say the raises haven’t narrowed the gap.

In the Washington area, the largest group of federal workers — about 47,000 people or 22 percent of the work force — is at grade 13 under the General Schedule, according to white-collar pay data from the Office of Personnel Management. GS-13 has a pay range of $74,782 to $97,213. Most feds in the Washington area are in grades 12 and higher.

Retired federal workers in the Washington area — whose annuities are based on length of service, salary and the average of their highest three-year salary — will receive an adjustment based on cost of living. The final amount will be determined by the rate of inflation through September. Right now, the COLA for retirees stands at 0.6 percent.

Federal/postal/military retirees are the only major group of retirees in the nation who get any inflation adjustment at all from their employer. Federal retirees have a much higher average annuity than people under Social Security, but they receive less than active-duty civil servants.

Postal employees based in the Washington area, whose contract guarantees them adjustments based on cost of living, will get an increase on March 19 that will work out to be about 10 cents an hour, or $8 per biweekly pay period. Salaries for most clerks and letter carriers, who make up the bulk of the U.S. Postal Service work force, range from about $37,000 to $48,000 per year.

The federal pay law, designed by a Republican president and a Democrat-controlled Congress, was supposed to close the salary gap, real or perceived, between government and similar private-sector jobs. It took effect when Mr. Clinton took office. He rejected the idea that feds were underpaid, arguing that if civil-service benefits — retirement, vacations, holidays, sick leave and health insurance — were factored into the equation, feds might be on the right side of the gap.

Mr. Clinton’s advisers said he would not recommend the percentage pay raises called for in the 1990 pay comparability law unless and until the “total compensation” system — measuring the total value of pay and perks — was adopted.

The Bush administration hasn’t offered any such explanation or justification. It simply has recommended smaller percentage pay raises for civilian personnel than for members of the uniformed military.

Although most federal unions went easier on Mr. Clinton than on Mr. Bush when it came time to denounce reduced pay raises, Congress has hammered both Democrat and Republican. It has forced the White House to give feds the same percentage raise as military personnel.

For January next year, Mr. Bush recommended a 1.5 percent pay raise for civilians and 3.1 percent for military members. Odds are that Congress once again will make sure that white-collar federal workers — whether they are behind or ahead of the private sector — will continue to make a lot more than their postal brothers or their retired colleagues.

Social Security raise

Social Security recipients — federal, military and private sector — get the same January COLA as retired feds. The amount of the 2006 raise will depend on the rise in inflation over the next six months. The figure will be announced in mid-October, and neither Congress nor the White House will dare touch it.

Feds and Social Security

Bills that would eliminate the Social Security check eaters, the so-called windfall and offset formulas, continue to make progress in Congress.

Windfall can reduce the Social Security benefit of a fed retired under the old Civil Service Retirement System plan by $300 a month. It can wipe out the Social Security spousal/survivor benefit of a retired fed, schoolteacher, police officer or others whose pensions are based on work that is not covered by Social Security.

The man who would bury windfall and offset, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, has 187 co-sponsors out of 435 House members on his bill. All Washington-area members have signed on, so you don’t need to contact them. But if you are registered to vote down South, up North or out West, an e-mail would be a good idea.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected].

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