WASHINGTON – For the second year in a row, President Bush proposed higher pay raises for military than for civilian federal employees and, for the second year in a row, area congressmen have vowed to close that gap.
Bush’s fiscal 2005 budget, released Tuesday, calls for a 3.5 percent raise for the military and a 1.5 percent raise across the board for civilian workers. The president’s budget also includes an additional 0.5 percent for bigger raises for the best civilian workers.
Soon after the budget was released, however, a bipartisan group of Washington-area lawmakers introduced a House resolution that calls for both military and civilian workers to get the 3.5 percent raise.
“I am very disappointed that President Bush continues to show a lack of regard for civilian federal employees’ hard work and service by ignoring the bipartisan principle of pay parity,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
The resolution notes that there is a 5.4 percent gap between pay levels of military and civilian workers, but also points out that federal civilian workers make 32 percent less than their private-sector counterparts.
But Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, sees little reason for parity. Well over half of federal civilians are paid at higher rates than military personnel, he said, and increasing civilian raises to equal military raises would affect the deficit.
“That would add to the deficit that many members of the Maryland delegation have criticized” the Bush administration for, he said. If Congress insists in maintaining pay parity, it should cut expenditures in other areas and not increase taxes.
Bush last year proposed a 4.1 percent increase for military workers and a 2 percent raise for civilians, but Congress insisted on giving all federal employees the 4.1 percent. That raise took effect with the fiscal 2004 budget signed last month.
Unlike last year, the 2005 proposal includes $300 million that agencies could use to raise pay based on individual performance, said Chad Kolton, a spokesman for the White House budget office.
“The idea is that managers in the federal government and agencies have flexibility to reward employees who have outstanding performance and . . . to use those funds to attract and retain the best and the brightest,” he said.
But the president of the National Treasury Employees Union said the performance fund will not be enough to keep talented workers. Colleen M. Kelley said inadequate pay is a major reason for the federal government is unable to recruit and retain high-quality employees.
American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage agreed.
“For an administration that has talked about pay for performance, they have not put their money where their mouth is,” he said. “To fairly reward hundreds of thousands of federal workers, such a fund requires far more money.”
The pay-parity resolution does not challenge the performance fund, but Hoyer said he has concerns about it.
“I support the president’s goal of rewarding good work with incentives, but that reward should be above and beyond a fair across-the-board pay adjustment,” he said.
Kelley said the government still needs to live up to the mandates of the Federal Employees Pay Compatibility Act, which, among other things, called for parity between public- and private-sector jobs when it was passed in 1990. That law has yet to be fully implemented, she said.
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