Praise politics unlikely to please federal workers

Proponents of a larger pay raise next year for federal workers are concerned (and they should be) that although they are aiming high, they may they be shooting at some of their own. Their dilemma is that Congress may vote for an increase in federal employee pay and then finance that effort by directing agencies to trim their payrolls. That's not exactly what feds want.~~Supporters of a plan forwarded by federal unions to grant a January 1999 raise averaging about 5.9 percent are trying to convince Congress that economic conditions no longer justify holding down the federal pay raise. They said even a 5.9 percent increase would be less than half of the amount called for next year by federal pay-setting law. But if Congress approves a higher raise and does not grant extra funds to pay for it, agencies would be forced to absorb the cost, which could lead to reductions in force (RIFs), hiring freezes and other job-reduction measures.~~Because this is an election year and the economy is booming, it is quite possible that Congress will vote to increase federal pay by an amount that is more than what the president is proposing, which is a 3.1 percent raise. ~~If the needed funds have not been set aside beforehand, it could be too late in the budget process to pay for the raise any other way except to order agencies to absorb the costs. You can't blame feds for wanting to have their cake and eat it too, but it is certainly unrealistic.~~Federal employee groups should have identified funding sources for a pay raise well in advance, but they did not. Some employee organizations and members of Congress have proposed funding higher raises by reducing spending on government contracting, but budget leaders have shown no interest in that approach.~~Legislation has been introduced in both houses to that effect. H.R. 886 was introduced in the House "to provide for funding for federal employee pay adjustments and comparability payments through reductions in agency spending on service contracts for fiscal year 1998." Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate. Both bills call for reducing the total amount that would otherwise be available for entering into service contracts with private-sector firms by $5.7 billion and using this money to pay for a federal employee pay raise. Don't hold your breath waiting for this legislation to pass.~~A separate measure introduced in the Senate, S. 1679, would modify the conditions that must be met before alternative pay recommendations could be exercised by the president. Currently, the president can reduce the pay raise that feds are entitled to receive if "severe economic conditions" exist. President Clinton has used this excuse every year.~~The Senate bill defines "severe economic conditions" as the situation when there are two quarters of negative growth in the gross national product during the 12-month period before the date a pay adjustment is scheduled to take effect. This is a rational approach, and no members of Congress would go on the record as saying they were opposed to it, but this legislation is doomed to failure. It will be buried in some committee so that Congress does not have to vote on it.~~It's hard to believe, but this Democratic president is one of the staunchest advocates for "contracting out" I have seen over the years. And of course, this Republican Congress believes that every dollar given to a contractor buys two dollars' worth of government employee work. Never mind the $56 screws and $600 toilet seats the Defense Department regularly buys. Those are "honest mistakes." Right.~~There is virtually no chance that Congress will decide to use part of any expected budget surpluses to finance a federal pay raise. The Congressional Budget Office projects the 1999 and 2000 budgets will be in the black, but congressional leaders are resisting calls to spend that money for any purpose, for fear that allocating money for one program at the expense of another would start World War III. And even if Congress had the stomach to use some of the anticipated budget surplus, can you imagine them deciding to bestow their largess upon feds? I can't. ~~A 3.1 percent pay raise is what the president is recommending, and in all likelihood, that's what feds will get. Either that or a larger pay raise accompanied by RIFs and/or hiring freezes. Pick your poison.~~~~-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.~~

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