Amendment redefines pay-raise factor

I have never seen as unfriendly a political environment for federal employees as the present one. According to a recent report by the Federal Managers Association, last-minute action was required to stave off assaults against federal employees from a variety of sources.

In one action, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) successfully amended the 1999 Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Appropriations Bill to include the text of the Federal Employees Pay Fairness Act (H.R. 3251).

This amendment would maintain the Clinton Administration's proposed paltry 3.1 percent federal pay raise in fiscal 1999. But for Year 2000 and beyond, it would close a loophole in current law that allows the president to propose pay adjustments lower than those called for by the pay-setting formula in the Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA).

The 1990 pay reform law was supposed to ensure that federal pay rates are comparable to non-federal pay rates for the same work. But by citing "serious economic conditions," the president has consistently proposed pay adjustments that were substantially lower than those called for by the law. The Hoyer amendment would redefine "serious economic conditions" to mean two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the gross domestic product.

FEPCA's pay-setting formula calls for a 12.75 percent pay increase in 1999. At the time FEPCA was enacted, the average gap between federal and non-federal pay, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was 30 percent. FEPCA was designed to eliminate 70 percent of that pay gap by 1999. However, the pay gap remains essentially the same as it was when FEPCA was enacted.

Although the action taken by Hoyer gives the appearance of concern, it is a smoke screen. There is no valid reason for the abysmal failure of FEPCA. It is not necessary to pass new legislation to achieve the objectives embodied in FEPCA. Congress has had the option of overriding the president's pay proposals from the very start. It has chosen not to exercise this option.

Hoyer represents a district that is heavily populated by federal employees, so he is introducing legislation that will get him re-elected. But if he were serious about this, he'd lead an effort to overturn the president's pay recommendation.That tells you something: Congress doesn't give a hoot about federal employees.

And while Vice President Al Gore keeps trying to draw attention to his efforts to reinvent government by having it act more like a business, he invests no effort in reinventing federal pay scales to compare with those in the private sector.

On another front, a few members of Congress and emloyee groups managed to temporarily thwart the efforts of contractors to legislatively rewrite Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 and force agencies to conduct public/private competitions for activities that are not "governmental." The legislative vehicle for this effort is H.R. 716, the Freedom from Government Competition Act. It should be renamed the Contractor's Relief Act.

The Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology was scheduled to mark up the bill when subcommittee chairman Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) pulled the legislation because there was not enough support to pass it.

These contractors don't give up easily. Their next move was to get Rep. Anne Northrup (R-Ky.) to amend the 1999 Treasury, Postal Service Appropriations bill at the full committee mark-up and sneak in a version of H.R. 716.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) spoke out forcefully against the amendment, asserting that it was a massive, sweeping and complex piece of legislation that should be considered by the authorizing committee. Consequently, Northrup's attempts failed.

Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Service, also raised a potential challenge through his proposed Federal Employees Integrity, Performance and Compensation Improvement Act.

Some of the major provisions of the proposed legislation would increase the number of personnel demonstration proj- ects authorized at any time from 10 to 15; require formal procedures for disciplinary measures imposed on federal managers because of appeal agencies' decisions; increase the weight of performance appraisals during reductions in force; authorize denial of pay raises within employment grade for less than fully successful performance, not subject to employee appeal; and provide authority for agencies to establish alternative dispute resolution programs.

Most of the provisions of the act are not what I would characterize as "fed-friendly." But the mother of all unfriendly provisions in the act is the one that would establish a system, beginning in 2001, to direct a portion of federal employees' retirement contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan in lieu of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. To this observer, that provision looks like an attempt to dismantle the Civil Service Retirement System, plain and simple.

I'm hopeful that Mica's proposal will not get very far. But if federal employees aren't careful, they may soon become an endangered species.

Both parties are turning their backs on us, and our ability to fight back is severely limited. It is crucial for federal employees to support organizations that represent their rights. Find one that suits you, and put your money where your mouth is!

Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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