3.8 percent pay raise: Reality check!!!

3.8 percent pay raise: Reality check!!!

Friday – 1/16/2015, 2:00am EST

The bad news about the 2016 federal pay raise is it probably won’t be worth anywhere near 3.8 percent. Why? Couple of reasons:

Like most political stuff it is complicated. And not always what it seems. Example:

On the upside, all 31 of the House and Senate members who are proposing the 3.8 percent January increase are Democrats. Unity is good.

On the downside, Democrats lost control of the Senate last November. They also became even more of a minority in the House..

The reality — thanks to those who bothered to vote in last year’s mid-term election — is that most of the 535 members of Congress are not Democrats. Do the math.

The good news is that their dual minority status (in both the House and Senate) has converted some Democrats, who previously didn’t give a flying fig about “bureaucrats” into passionate pro-civil servant legislators.

Many Democrats now demanding fair play and better pay for federal employees — in the form of a 3.8 percent pay raise next year — voted with the White House when it first proposed a two-year (later extended to three-year) federal pay freeze.

The question long-time Washington hands might ask is if these suddenly pro-pay raise Democrats have seen the light and realized the error of their ways? Decided that the 3 years of no pay raises, followed by two years of 1 percent pay raises, have worked a hardship on federal white collar workers. Do they believe that the economy is so much improved that feds should go from zero to 3.8 percent? Or …

As some cynics might point out, are the new pay raise converts playing politics? Have they decided that since they are in the minority — meaning tight-fisted, anti-fed Republicans are firmly in the majority — they can now afford to be generous on the pay front? Possibly because they know a pay raise of that amount (3.8 percent) doesn’t stand a chance, but will cast the GOP in an even worse light with federal workers. I’m just saying …

Some Democrats now pushing for the 3.8 percent raise are true believers. They’ve been behind feds for a long time. They understand the situation and, not incidentally, get elected from congressional districts that are full of federal and military personnel and retirees. They know and like feds, and also know they better if they want to remain in Congress. They include Beltway area Reps. Gerry Connolly, Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, Eleanor Holmes Norton and freshman Don Beyer. All are from Maryland, Virginia or D.C., which is home to 14 percent of the federal workforce.

Some of the new pro-pay raise converts, however, have previously gone along with pay freeze after pay freeze — when proposed by their President.

Now that they are out of power (at least for the next two years) some would say the Democrats — certain that Republicans will oppose it — have nothing to lose by supporting a more generous/deserved pay raise for feds.

Does that sound cynical?

Va. congressman pushes for 3.8 percent pay raise

Va. congressman pushes for 3.8 percent pay raise

Tuesday – 1/13/2015, 9:31am EST

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) plans to introduce a bill Tuesday that would give federal employees a 3.8 percent pay raise next year, according to the Washington Post.

The Federal Adjustment of Income Rate (FAIR) Act has about two dozen co-sponsors, including Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

The 114th Congress is not expected to approve the bill, but Connolly said the bill is a statement on his and the co-sponsors’ commitment to the federal service.

“No other group in our country has been demonized, demoralized and asked to sacrifice more than our federal workforce,” Connolly said. “Enough is enough. It is time for Congress to provide the dedicated men and women of our federal workforce with fair compensation.”

He said the legislation also sends a message to President Barack Obama, as the President prepares next year’s budget proposal for Congress.

Connolly has been a long-time supporter of larger pay increases for the federal workforce. Last March, he sponsored a similar bill that would boost federal pay by 3.3 percent in 2015. The bill didn’t pass, and federal employees instead got a 1 percent raise.

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Sen. Johnson Speaks on Aligning Public-Private Sector Pay, Keeping Hearings Polite

Sen. Johnson Speaks on Aligning Public-Private Sector Pay, Keeping Hearings Polite

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is the presumptive incoming chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is the presumptive incoming chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel. Flickr user Gage Skidmore
The presumptive incoming chairman of the Senate’s main government oversight panel plans a “businessman’s approach” to policy and management that includes streamlining the Homeland Security Department, aligning federal pay with the private sector and new coordination with House Republicans in rolling back burdensome regulations.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., in an interview with Government Executive, was careful to praise the dedication of the federal workforce. But he also warned that too many agency managers are “constrained and hamstrung’ in their ability to hire and fire, adding that a move toward more merit pay could be high on the agenda of a reorganized Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“My top priority is securing the Southwestern border,” said the founder of a plastics manufacturing company who’s up for re-election to the Senate in 2016. “That’s needed not only for solving immigration problems, but as a public health and national security imperative as well. We’re well past the time for passing successful and effective border security legislation.”

Johnson would also like to pursue a cybersecurity bill in light of the recent array of hackings and breaches of both government and private-sector systems.  Just Monday, the U.S. Postal Service announced a breach of its computer systems that put at risk the personal information of its employees.

A related goal is working with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to streamline his department, which suffers from low morale by many reports and has a hard time filling necessary positions,” the senator said. His conversations with Jeh Johnson have broached the familiar problems that plagued DHS as it cobbled together 22 agencies, each with its own reporting requirements to multiple congressional committees. “Oversight is important, but there may be over-oversight here,” Ron Johnson said.  “I told him I’d do everything I can to help because the oversight is way out of hand now. It’s time to reauthorize and streamline DHS.”

As for the governmental half of his “two committees in one,” Johnson wants to tackle “the overreach of regulatory agencies, because we need to get more robust economic growth.  One of my problems is the regulation upon regulation imposed on business, so we need to take a serious look at modernizing and streamlining.”

One of the big changes coming to Washington when Republicans take control of the Senate in January will be greater use of joint strategies between Senate and House Republicans. Johnson has reviewed the dozens of House-passed and proposed bills to curb regulation and has “reached out” to counterparts on the House Homeland Security and Oversight and Government Reform panels.

But he also plans to solicit Democratic colleagues “on which agencies do harm in their states,” he said. “The key is finding common ground. Because the Senate is unique, bills have to have bipartisan support to pass. The Senate could lead the way.”

Johnson said he has great respect for current panel Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., calling him “a man of integrity.” Next Congress the panel members “will get along and work in a bipartisan fashion the way [former Sen.] Joe Lieberman [I-Conn.] and Susan Collins [R-Maine] did” in previous Congresses, and the way retiring ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., got along with Carper, Johnson added.

He also praised Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri as someone “with a lot of spunk, who is pretty demanding, with a good attitude, and who is here to protect taxpayer money.” He said he  “learned a lot” from hearings at McCaskill’s Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, and hopes to continue looking at “reforms to make contracting more effective and efficient.”

But at the same time,” Johnson said, “the Republican majority has different priorities, so there will be more robust oversight investigation efforts under the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations “looking at the harm that government does to people through regulation and the tax system,” he said. The current chairman of that panel, the retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., focused too much on “business bashing,” according to Johnson.

The committee’s entire subcommittee structure is being reviewed with an eye toward reorganizing it more “like a business,” so that subcommittee work filters up to the full committee, Johnson reported.

Might the Republican-run 114th Congress attempt some form of civil service reform? “Yes, but the business approach is different,” Johnson said. “I have been to a number of hearings to get up-to-speed on the issues and to lay out principles. I’m always impressed with the quality of federal workforce.” But there are competing studies on whether federal pay is rightly aligned and benchmarked with the private sector, he added. “We have to hold hearings on the facts. The pay has to be aligned and can’t be out of whack—that’s the businessman’s approach to keeping things competitive with the private sector.”

Reform might also mean faster hiring and firing as well as more merit-based pay, Johnson confirmed. “We’ve got to give agency heads the tools and flexibility to discipline the workforce to effectively manage.”

But Johnson said he agrees that federal recruiting could suffer if government salaries are not competitive. “We can’t underpay and expect to get the quality of individual we need, but we can’t afford to overpay, so we need good solid pay and benefits comparisons,” Johnson said. One issue that might discourage future federal recruits and appointees needing confirmation are the financial disclosure requirements under the STOCK Act, he added. “It’s become way too intrusive in potential employees’ lives and my staff.”

Johnson gave an animated response to a question on why many agency officials who testify at hearings are often cut off or silenced. “I’m new here, but I see why it happens,” he said. “You’ve got a clock on you for five –to seven minutes, depending on how many senators show up. So when a witness is unresponsive, you feel compelled to interrupt. But you try to do it within the bounds of collegiality and respect.”

One solution could be for witnesses to come prepared for the expected questions, and to provide their testimony sooner than the typical delivery the night before, Johnson said. “I totally understand this isn’t satisfying,” he said. “I don’t want to run show trials, and I want to be respectful.” His staff, he added, is looking for better ways to hold hearings focused on gathering facts, “probably with more information from pre-hearings and secure briefings, when people are more relaxed,” he said. “It’s a serious issue, and I would like to change it.”

Johnson stressed that he has “a great deal of respect for those who offer themselves for public service, and I want to treat them with the respect they deserve.” But some individual agency heads who appear on television, he said, “won’t instill a lot of confidence, and they get tough criticism.”

How can Republicans and Democrats work together and perhaps even compromise? “I‘m going to reach out to other side and find areas of agreement, which is exactly how I approached things in business,” Johnson said. “You don’t sit down and start arguing right away, you find everything we agree on and put the disagreements off to one side. Then you can build relationships and a level of trust, so that when you find disagreements, it’s easier to find common ground.”

But the approach of putting aside disagreements may not produce common ground, in Johnson’s view, if, for example, President Obama  signs an executive order, as he has vowed to do, implementing a form of immigration reform in place of the Senate-passed comprehensive legislative package that the House has declined to take up. “That would poison the well,” Johnson said. Pressuring the House to take up the bill would be, “outside the bounds of reality—a noncredible demand.”

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

One Chart Showing Every Military Pay Raise in the Last 30 Years

One Chart Showing Every Military Pay Raise in the Last 30 Years

A U.S. Marine patrols a poppy field in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
A U.S. Marine patrols a poppy field in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O’Donald/U.S. Navy
Civilian federal employees seem headed for a 1 percent pay raise in 2015. President Obama called for it, and Congress has shown no inclination to stand in his way.

The fate of the military raise, however, hangs much more in the balance. Obama and a Senate committee have backed a 1 percent pay boost, while the House has passed legislation that would give uniformed service personnel a 1.8 percent base salary increase.

The Senate has yet to pass its annual defense authorization bill, which sets the level for the military pay raise. If the Senate advances the committee-backed version of the bill, House-Senate negotiators would have to reconcile the gap between the 1.8 percent raise and the 1 percent figure in conference committee.

Military personnel received a 1 percent raise in 2014, the lowest such increase in the last several decades. The annual pay bump peaked in 1982, when uniformed service members received a 14.3 percent raise after receiving an 11.7 percent boost the year before.

The military pay raise is technically automatically tied to a Bureau of Labor Statistics figure — the Employment Cost Index — that measures wage increases in the private sector. The president will usually make his own proposal, however, and Congress has the final say. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has endorsed a plan to give service members smaller raises as part of a larger effort to shrink compensation costs, saying the Pentagon can no longer afford the large increases military personnel received in the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Civilian and military pay raises have, at times, mirrored each other, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Congressional Research Service. Since the turn of the century, Congress has by and large granted military personnel larger salary bumps. The chart below shows the pay raises for military and federal civilian employees over the last 30 years:

Obama Issues Plan to Give Feds a 1 Percent Pay Raise

Obama Issues Plan to Give Feds a 1 Percent Pay Raise

 
Abel Tumik/Shutterstock.com

President Obama issued an alternative pay plan late Friday, setting an across-the-board increase for civilian federal employees of 1 percent in 2015.

The figure matches the amount the president requested in his fiscal 2015 budget proposal. Obama issued a separate plan providing a 1 percent boost in monthly basic pay rates for military service members. 

Obama alluded to a desire to give feds a larger raise, but said he was not at liberty to do so due to budgetary concerns.

“Civilian Federal employees have already made significant sacrifices as a result of a three-year pay freeze that ended in January 2014 with the implementation of a 1.0 percent pay increase — an amount lower than the private sector pay increases and statutory formula for adjustments to the base General Schedule. However, as the country’s economic recovery continues, we must maintain efforts to keep our Nation on a sustainable fiscal course. This is an effort that continues to require tough choices and each of us to do our fair share.”

Under Obama’s plan, locality pay levels would remain at their 2014 levels. Locality pay has been frozen since 2010.

Obama declared that his pay proposal “will not materially affect the federal government’s ability to attract and retain a well-qualified federal workforce.”

Federal labor unions had supported measures in both the House and Senate that would have given feds a 3.3 percent raise, though those measure have not yet received a vote in either house.

If the president had not informed Congress of his alternative pay plan for feds by the end of August, then the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act would have kicked in. Under FEPCA, the raise would be determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent. 

Presidents largely have ignored the FEPCA formula in their federal pay raise proposals, preferring to offer their own figure. Congress created FEPCA, which provides an annual across-the-board salary boost and a locality pay adjustment for General Schedule employees, to close the public and private sector pay gap. The Federal Salary Council has said that federal employees are underpaid relative to private sector workers by approximately 34.6 percent.

The reality, however, is that Congress will end up determining whether federal employees receive a pay raise next year.

So far, lawmakers have remained mum on the issue of a federal employee pay raise. The House has passed a bill that would allow a 1 percent raise to go into effect. Unless Congress proactively alters the proposal, Obama’s 1 percent recommendation will become law. 

(Image via Abel Tumik/Shutterstock.com)