February 19, 2004

Union presses Bush to issue order divvying up 2004 pay raise

By Shawn Zeller

The National Treasury Employees Union on Thursday called on President Bush to issue the executive order needed to begin the process of awarding higher 2004 pay raises to federal employees.

"Federal employees have waited long enough," said Colleen Kelley, president of the union, citing a nearly month-long delay by the president. NTEU represents about 150,000 employees at 29 federal agencies.

In January, Congress passed a budget bill that included a 4.1 percent average pay raise for civilian and military employees. President Bush had proposed a 2 percent raise for civil servants that included no locality-based pay increase, which they began receiving in January.

The full raise cannot be implemented, however, until the administration issues an executive order defining how much of that money, if any, will be allocated to locality pay. Employees in high-cost-of-living areas have typically received raises about 1 percent greater than those in lower cost areas. In October 2003, the Federal Salary Council recommended that federal employees receive a 2.7 percent across-the-board increase and a 1.4 percent locality pay increase in 2004, but the president is not required to follow those recommendations.

President Bush "needs to do what Congress has authorized," Kelley said, and "respect federal employees and the work they do."

The situation is threatening to be just as irritating to federal workers as the delay in implementing last year's pay raise, when Congress took until February to pass the fiscal 2003 budget and President Bush took another month--till late March--to issue his executive order breaking the raise down by locality.

Even after Bush issues the executive order, federal employees will have to wait for the Office of Personnel Management to issue new pay tables, and for individual agencies to adjust their pay systems. Last year, some federal employees didn't receive their full raises until late spring.

Kelley said that long delays in providing the annual pay raise hurt employee morale and recruitment. "Playing games like this with the pay of government employees serves only to make those problems worse," she said.