WASHINGTON – Many of the more than 3,000 Maryland reservists called to active duty since Sept. 11 face significant pay cuts while they are performing their military service because they are federal employees.
While many large corporations, and even some local governments, compensate employees for the difference between their regular and their military pay, the federal government does not. That despite the fact that the federal government employs 120,000 of the nation’s 1.3 million reservists, the most in the country.
“If companies like Safeway, IBM, Intel and Verizon can provide for their employees during times like these, then our federal government must care for its own as well,” said, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Mikulski is a cosponsor of the Senate version of the Reservists Pay Security Act of 2001, which would ensure that federal employees on active duty would receive their entire civilian salary. A companion measure in the House is backed by several Maryland lawmakers.
Even officers can see a dip in their pay in the reserves, but the differential can be significant for those who are in the upper brackets of the government pay scale and who serve as enlisted personnel in the reserves.
One such reservist went from a $66,500 GS-13 job with the Federal Aviation Administration to a $48,000 job as a master sergeant stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. Since he no longer qualifies for the additional reserves income he once received on top of his civilian salary, his income has actually dropped by about 33 percent.
But the sergeant, whose full name cannot be used for security reasons, said he will continue to serve, despite the losses.
“The commitment to my service is much larger than the amount of my bills,” the Laurel resident said.
The 20-year Air Force veteran, a member of the 459th Security Forces Squadron, is now stationed at Andrews and could be deployed for up to two years.
He said his life has been severely affected by the events of Sept. 11. He was activated Sept. 23 and his fiance, lost her job at Reagan National Airport as a result of the airport’s decline in business since the attacks.
Local lawmakers are now attempting to aid such families like his.
“A federal employee who is also a member of the National Guard or uniformed services is serving our country on so many levels that it is unconscionable to not pay them fairly,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
Hoyer, with Reps. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, and Albert Wynn, D- Largo, are among the cosponsors of a House reservists pay proposal introduced by Reps. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. and Bob Filner, D-Calif.
Both the House and Senate bills would be retroactive to Sept. 11.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would cost about $3 million to cover the gap in pay for about 2,500 federal employees on active duty between Sept. 11 and Oct. 1, 2001. It could not estimate future costs, because of the uncertainty of deployments. The bill would require that agencies make up any future pay gap out of their existing budgets.
Wexler said the bill would have “minimal fiscal impact.” He also said the states of Florida and Illinois as well as many companies — such as American Express, Ford, Bank of America and Northwest Airlines — provide compensation to employees who are called to serve.
Bobby L. Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, echoed Wexler.
“Many enlightened businesses and local governments pay the differences between the active duty military salaries of their reservist employees who are mobilized,” Harnage said. “Unfortunately, this is not the case with the nation’s largest employer, the federal government, which should be the nation’s model employer.”