Feds deserve equal pay

President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget asks for a 4.1 percent pay increase for the military, but only 2.6 percent for civilian federal employees. While continuing to press agency workers to put in longer hours fighting the war on terrorism, Bush is apparently not willing to pay for services rendered.

That has prompted a number of congressmen, including Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), to join forces with the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees to fight for fair pay for feds.

To separate the military from the civilian employees and "diminish their role in our nation's security by paying them poorly," Hoyer said, "is counterproductive and unconscionable."

The proposed civil service raise has irked federal union leaders and many feds, who have called it inadequate, and renewed debate about what standards should be used to set federal pay scales.

A House appropriations subcommittee has since adopted an amendment to the fiscal 2003 Treasury-Postal appropriations bill requiring a 4.1 percent pay raise for civilian federal employees, matching the Bush administration request for military personnel. Every day, federal civilian and military employees work side by side doing important work to defend their nation. In the Defense Department alone, 669,000 civilian federal employees support their military counterparts.

Both the House and Senate have consistently recognized in the past that we should not undermine the morale of dedicated federal public servants by failing to bring their pay adjustments in line with military personnel. In fact, there has been parity between the military and civilian employee annual pay adjustments for 15 of the last 18 years.

So why does Bush support pay disparity for feds? He proposed the same thing last year, but Congress voted for equal pay for feds and military personnel. They'll probably do so again this year, but what's his beef with feds? Why not parity?

If Bush is trying to save money, this is a questionable way to do so, especially while he continues beating the drum for corporate welfare and repealing the estate tax for the wealthy.

I'm not opposed to providing combat pay for those who lay their lives on the line, but most military personnel are far removed from the battlefield, performing duties similar to those performed by civilian employees.

And even if a case can be made that their duties are more demanding, these people volunteered — they weren't drafted. For many, military service is the only way out of the inner city and a chance for a decent life. Do we now have to offer even more inducements? Why are military personnel entitled to more of a raise than feds when annual raises are essentially annual inflation supplements?

Are enlisted men failing to re-enlist at historical rates? Is there a recruitment problem? If there is, tell us and we'll understand. But don't just keep treating feds like second-class citizens. We're not, and we resent it!

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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