New Pay Tables Show 1.5 Percent Raise for Special-Rate Employees

By Stephen Barr

Thursday, January 8, 2004; Page B02

Although most federal employees are covered by the white-collar pay table known as the General Schedule, about 140,800 employees receive "special salary rates" because they are in high-demand occupations or in locations where the government has trouble competing for talent.

Among those covered by special pay tables are employees in the fields of technology, engineering and medicine.

Yesterday, the Office of Personnel Management posted 400 pay tables that provide for a 1.5 percent pay increase for special-rate employees. If Congress approves a larger raise pending in an omnibus spending bill, these employees' pay would rise by a few percentage points more.

Employees paid under special rates receive higher base salaries than they would under regular pay rules. Because of their higher pay rates, they do not receive the annual "locality pay" adjustment provided to GS employees.

In addition to the special-rate schedules authorized by OPM, civil service law mandates a special pay table for about 31,700 federal law enforcement officers. They, too, received a 1.5 percent salary increase this month.

OPM typically reviews the special rates each year in partnership with agencies that offer them to their employees. In a memo to agencies, Kay Coles James, the OPM director, said a special table for computer specialists would be retained despite previous plans to abolish it.

In 2001, OPM called on agencies to move about 55,000 federal technology workers out of the GS-334 occupational series and into a more flexible category, called GS-2200 and GS-2210. But the transition apparently has taken longer than planned.

"Several agencies reported that they have not completed their reclassification actions and continue to have positions classified in the former GS-334 series," James said. "Although we are not deleting the GS-334 series from the [technology] special rate tables at this time, we urge agencies to complete all GS-334 reclassification actions as soon as possible."

In her memo, James said OPM reviewed 402 special-rate schedules. One pay table will not provide a pay increase and the other is being abolished, she said.

Some Pay Zones to Shift

The boundaries in the locality pay system remain the same in 2004, but changes lie ahead.

Currently, there are 31 metropolitan pay areas plus a catchall "rest of the U.S." locality for employees in the contiguous 48 states but not in one of the metropolitan zones.

The boundary lines became an issue last year when the Office of Management and Budget redefined the standard metropolitan areas that the government uses for various purposes -- including locality pay zones. That redefinition could have knocked some employees into lower-paid localities.

But the Federal Salary Council, an advisory group, recommended new policies that prevented such a change in most cases. The group also recommended adding certain outlying areas to higher-paying localities -- primarily Boston, Denver and Miami -- as early as 2005. A higher-level policy group, called the President's Pay Agent, recently endorsed those recommendations.

The Pay Agent further agreed to drop three of the existing localities -- Kansas City, St. Louis and Orlando -- and shift employees there into the "rest of the U.S." category, effective in 2005. The pay gaps in those areas, based on surveys with non-federal employment, have been below those measured for the "rest of the U.S." category in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Pay Agent opened the door for creating new, separate locality zones in the Buffalo, Phoenix, Louisville, Memphis and Austin areas if funds become available for conducting pay surveys there.

Waxman Seeks HUD Probe

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) yesterday asked the inspector general at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate allegations that Acting HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson made anti-union statements during a meeting last year with agency employees in Los Angeles.

President Bush has nominated Jackson to succeed Mel R. Martinez, who resigned as HUD secretary last month.