Pay parity

President Bush's budget plan contains generalities rather than concrete pay proposals for feds, and this should change.

The Bush budget recommends a 4.6 percent pay increase for military personnel and would give the Defense Department an extra $1 billion for "specific recruiting and retention needs." In contrast, the Bush budget does not increase civil service pay at all, although the Office of Management and Budget has told agencies to use 3.6 percent as a planning figure.

What is in the Bush budget is a call to produce cuts "in the number of managerial layers in the upper echelons of government" and for more "contracting out" of federal work. It strikes me as strange that Bush and his advisers haven't come up with a pay raise figure for feds, but are already targeting managers and beating the contracting-out drums yet again.

Although praising the "men and women in uniform" always produces some political mileage and plays well in Peoria, Ill., for whoever is doing the praising, the fact is that we now have an all-volunteer military service. That means those in the military have chosen to be in the military — just as feds have chosen to be feds. So why should one group deserve a higher pay raise than the other?

If President Bush believes that the military isn't being paid enough, that should be documented before we take that assertion on faith alone. In fact, there's ample information to tell us whether each military service is meeting its annual recruiting goals and whether soldiers and sailors are re-enlisting at acceptable rates.

If not, then the solution is not to grant a 4.6 percent pay raise, but rather to examine why specific recruiting and re-enlisting goals aren't being achieved. With that information in hand, government policy-makers can then decide what needs to be done. We've got to know what the problem is before we can fix it.

There's no good reason to treat feds and military personnel differently. Both are volunteer forces. They should be treated alike. Favoring one group over the other is a serious mistake.

Whoever is advising Bush on this issue has blundered badly. That's all the more surprising because of all the private-sector smarts that this administration is supposed to have. We're told that the private sector is "market-driven" and understands the relationship between supply and demand. We're also told that this administration wants government run as if it is market-driven. So who's the genius who told Bush to create a pay disparity between military and civilian government employees?

I try not to be cynical about government operations, but when I see such a blunder, it's hard to be anything but cynical. I wouldn't be surprised if the maven behind this idea gets a superior performance award. And so it goes.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached via e-mail at miltzall@starpower.net.

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