Some members of Congress are pressing for a larger pay riase for federal employees, but the odds are against them. (William Thomas Cain / Getty Images)
Legislation that would give federal employees a 3.3 percent pay raise next year is unlikely to pass, according to lawmakers.
However, Rep Gerry Connolly, D.-Va, who introduced the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act on March 26, is optimistic about longer term success. While admitting that the legislation faces an uphill climb this year, multiyear battles ending in success are not uncommon in Congress.
“We need to change the conversation among the House majority and even some of my Democratic colleagues on the importance and worth of our federal workforce,” Connolly said.
He said federal employees deserve fair compensation, and their pay should keep up with growth in the private sector. Otherwise, the federal government will have a hard time recruiting younger workers.
“With so many federal workers retiring in the next few years, it is important that we provide appropriate incentives to attract the best possible employees into federal service,” Connolly said.
Many Republicans are afraid to support the bill because they fear election challenges by more conservative candidates, he charged.
“They are afraid of supporting anything that would cost money or anything that would enhance the productivity of government,” Connolly said.
The Obama administration proposed a 1 percent pay raise for federal employees in its fiscal 2015 budget request, and federal employees received a 1 percent pay raise in fiscal 2014 after three years of pay freezes.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who co-sponsored the bill, said the legislation helps call attention to the cuts in pay and benefits federal employees have suffered over the years, including increases to pension contributions.
“In light of the relentless insistence of House Republicans to use federal workers as a piggy bank for deficit reduction, chances are probably slim that they would pass this pay raise,” Cummings said.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House minority whip, said in February that any pay raise of more than 1 percent faces stiff opposition from Republicans, and even that will be a challenge.
“I think they think zero is better, and a matter of fact, some would reverse,” Hoyer said.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, would not comment on whether the legislation would be brought to a vote this year.
Federal employee groups are stepping forward to support the legislation and to move the needle on what constitutes fair pay for federal workers. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the pay raise would help federal employees recoup lost income and boost agency efforts to recruit high-caliber workers.
“Federal employees have seen their standard of living deteriorate in recent years due to a three-year pay freeze, unpaid furloughs, and higher retirement contributions for newer workers,” Cox said. He added the attacks on federal employee have hurt government morale and effectiveness.
Cox said new federal employees are still on the hook for higher pension contributions and for furloughs suffered last year because of sequestration. “A 3.3 percent increase would provide employees with a fair and meaningful raise for the first time this decade.”
Joseph Beaudoin, the president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, endorsed the legislation in a letter to Connolly, saying that while federal employee pay rose only 1 percent in four years, private-sector pay rose 6.5 percent.
“Providing our public servants adequate compensation is about more than just fairness, it is about maintaining an efficient and effective federal government,” he said.
Impact on morale
Federal employee morale has fallen three years in a row to a score of 57.8 on a scale of 100 in 2013, according to the Partnership For Public Service’s annual Best Places to Work analysis.
But as federal employee morale remains low and larger pay raises are mired in Congress, agencies can still work to improve morale by providing better leadership and promoting greater engagement with employees, according to Robert Tobias, director of the Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University.
He said when Congress acts as the employer by deciding on low pay raises, it can damage morale. This also happens when agency executives decide to remain distant from their own workforce.
“When my employer doesn’t value me and my bosses don’t value me, I am not engaged. I think the only way you deal with that issue is by talking about it and engaging with the workforce about the problem,” Tobias said.■