Bush administration, House at odds over 2006 pay raise

By Alyson Klein, CongressDaily

The House and the administration are at odds over which federal employees should be given a pay raise next year -- and how high that salary boost should be.

OMB contends the annual pay adjustment should not apply to blue-collar workers, or Homeland Security Department and Pentagon employees who are slated to operate under a different personnel system from other federal workers.

Extending the raise to those two agencies would undermine efforts to "begin using authorities conferred upon them by Congress to design and implement a modern personnel and pay system that best meets their needs," OMB officials wrote in a Statement of Administration Policy on the Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill, approved by the House last month.

OMB also argued that adjusting pay for blue-collar employees at the same rate as General Schedule workers "could result in paying [them] at higher rates than the local labor market would support."

OMB asked that federal workers be given a 2.3 percent pay hike instead of the 3.1 percent scheduled for military employees. OMB officials noted the House pay raise would cost nearly $1 billion more than what President Bush proposed.

But lawmakers say the heftier increase is necessary to entice qualified workers to civil service, which generally pays less than the private sector.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who championed the across-the-board increase as a member of the Transportation-Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee, said: "The Bush administration's complaints ignore the fact that fair pay is a key tool in the federal government's effort to recruit and retain quality employees ... At a time of war it is even more important that the 900,000 Defense and Homeland Security employees who work side-by-side with the military receive a fair pay adjustment."

House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., whose panel oversees the federal workforce, agreed.

"Chairman Davis supports the efforts at DoD and DHS, but until those systems are fully up and running, pay parity is the means to help ensure pay comparability with the private sector," Davis' spokesman said.

But OMB officials wrote in the statement that, "Any recruitment or retention problems facing the Government are limited to a few areas and occupations and do not warrant such an arbitrary, across-the-board increase."

Jacqueline Simon, director of public policy for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union is optimistic that the across-the-board raise will be approved.

"The fact that it passed the House by such a large margin is pretty good news," she said of the Transportation-Treasury bill, approved 405-18. She said the union will work to get a similar provision in the Senate version of the measure, but added, "I never like to underestimate this administration in terms of what it can get done in conference."