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Proposed pay raise draws ire from all sides

Jan. 9, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce. (Rep. Dennis Ross)

Most federal employees would barely notice President Obama's proposed 0.5 percent pay raise in their paychecks in 2013.

A GS-9, Step 1 employee in the Washington area, who now receives a before-tax annual salary of $51,630, would get a $258 raise in 2013 under Obama's plan. That would translate to an extra $10 in that employee's paycheck every two weeks and that's before taxes and other deductions are taken out.

Even the highest-paid General Schedule employees in the GS-15 grade, earning the maximum $155,500, would only see their before-tax biweekly paychecks go up less than $30.

The raise would be the first adjustment to federal employees' pay scales in three years. Obama froze pay-scale increases in 2011 and 2012, though feds continued to receive raises through regularly scheduled step increases and promotions.

One Defense Department employee, Tanya Ramey, told Federal Times that although the proposed 2013 raise would not be a lot, she sees the fact that it's being discussed at all as reason to hope for a bigger raise in the future.

"That's not going to help me in the grocery store, but it's a step in the right direction," said Ramey, who writes a newsletter for retired Marines. "Maybe it'll be 2-point-something the following year. Anything, please."

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who represents thousands of federal employees, said Obama's proposed raise is inadequate.

"The Obama administration should, at a minimum, follow the standard formula for calculating pay raises, which the 0.5 percent increase proposal fails to do," Moran said. "Small pay raises to an already underpaid workforce threaten to harm recruitment and retention efforts at a time when the federal government expects a wave of baby boomers to retire."

The formula outlined by the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act calls for a 1.2 percent increase to federal salaries in 2013, but Congress and the president routinely ignore that formula when setting pay raises.

But Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who oversees the House subcommittee overseeing federal workforce issues, thinks federal employees are overcompensated when compared with their private-sector counterparts. He called the proposed raise evidence that Obama "is a public-sector union puppet."

"This pay raise is symbolic at best and pure politics at its worst," Ross said in a statement Jan. 9. "Just days after he weakens our national defense, he gives government unions a raise. Astounding."

The American Federation of Government Employees called the proposed raise "minuscule."

"This increase is well below the rate of inflation of 3.6 percent, and will be wiped out by higher costs for health care, groceries and other essential needs," AFGE National President John Gage said Jan. 6.

The National Treasury Employees Union was also disappointed at the size of the raise, and noted that the employment cost index, which measures private-sector wage growth, increased by 4.7 percent over the last three years.

"I believe something more reflective of private-sector increases would have been more fair and appropriate," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

But some other federal employee groups applauded the proposal, and welcomed the thawing of the pay freeze.

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