Senate panel approves military-civilian pay parity

By David McGlinchey

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Treasury on Thursday approved a 3.5 percent pay raise for all federal civilian employees in fiscal 2005.

The move - which took place as the subcommittee adjusted its spending bill - comes despite extensive White House efforts to hold the civilian pay raise to 1.5 percent in the coming year while granting a 3.5 percent raise to military personnel.

President Bush has said the military deserves the higher raise because of continued deployments overseas, and his supporters in Congress have complained that the 3.5 percent civilian raise will cost the federal government too much money.

Supporters of equal pay raises have said the pay boosts are needed for recruitment and retention. Several lawmakers have noted that many civilian workers are heavily involved in homeland security, anti-terrorism and military efforts.

In March, the House overwhelmingly endorsed equal pay raises for the military and civilian workforce in a nonbinding "Sense of Congress" resolution. Several months later, in July, the House Appropriations Committee voted to support pay parity, but the full House has not yet officially addressed the issue.

The language in the Senate subcommittee's spending bill is very similar to the language in the matching House bill, according to sources. This could potentially pave the way for a smooth adoption of the pay-parity language in a conference committee, if it is ultimately approved by both chambers.

Federal workers unions moved quickly to commend Thursday's Senate subcommittee vote.

"There is a growing bipartisan majority in Congress, which recognizes that federal employees deserve pay parity with the military and a level playing field in the face of this administration's continuing ill-advised policy of opening up government work to a private sector that is unaccountable to our nation's taxpayers," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

The American Federation of Government Employees applauded the subcommittee and noted that the pay raise would apply to all government workers, including Defense and Department of Homeland Security employees whose entire personnel and pay system is being overhauled.

"We are particularly pleased that the 3.5 percent pay raise covers not just [General Schedule] workers governmentwide, but also blue-collar employees paid under the Federal Wage System," said AFGE President John Gage. "Although, the actions of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee are an important victory, we can't presume the pay raise is a done deal. AFGE will need to be vigilant to make sure that the pay increase is not lowered as the appropriations process continues."