WASHINGTON – With the extra earnings from this year’s federal pay raise, Bowie resident and Department of Energy employee Sam Brown plans to buy a new Honda Odyssey minivan.
Amy Spillman of Elkridge, a writer for the Agriculture Department, will put part of her raise into savings for a new house and for retirement. With what’s left over, she plans to follow the president’s advice by “bolstering the local economy by using it as spending money.”
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers in the region are enjoying similar dreams this month, as the first paychecks with a promised 2002 raise land in their pockets.
More than 240,000 federal employees in the Washington-Baltimore area got a 4.77 percent raise that went into effect Jan. 1. Federal workers in the far western counties and on the Eastern Shore — except Queen Anne’s County, which falls in the Washington-Baltimore region — got a 3.6 percent increase.
By comparison, the Washington-area cost of living rose 2.2 percent from November 2000 to November 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While many welcomed the raise, others said they wanted more.
Magda Lynn Seymour, communications director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said it was hard to be pleased with 4.77 percent.
“The law states that federal employees’ salaries should match the private sector and this increase fails to close the gap,” she said.
Nancy Gagne of Rockville, a computer specialist and systems analyst for the National Center for Health Statistics, agreed.
“The pay increase is certainly better than what we’ve gotten in past years, but not as much as we should receive to bring our salaries in line with the private industry,” she said.
Seymour and Gagne were referring to the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990, which aimed to address recruiting and retention problems of white-collar federal employees by gradually erasing the salary gap between public- and private-sector jobs.
The problem of retaining workers is compounded in urban areas, where the cost of living is often significantly higher. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville, wrote to the Office of Personnel Management last year, pointing out the need to raise federal salaries in urban areas.
“Unfortunately, federal pay, especially in major metropolitan areas, continues to lag behind the private sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national gap between the public and private sectors has grown to 32.2 percent,” he wrote.
Hoyer noted that the last three pay hikes have been “the highest in almost three decades,” but that it is still not enough to close the gap with the private sector.
But others believe the government’s pay hike was generous.
“During a time when the private sector economy is contracting, federal employees are very fortunate to receive a raise of this level,” said Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union.
Last year, federal employees in the Washington-Baltimore region received a 3.81 percent increase.
Brown, the Energy Department employee, agreed that the discrepancy between the public and private sector should be closed as soon as possible. But in the meantime, “the extra cash I’ll be receiving will definitely help out,” he said.