Locality pay passes SenateThe congressional jury is out on...

Newswatch ... on federal workers

September 12, 1990|By MICK ROOD | MICK ROOD,States News Service

WASHINGTON — Locality pay passes Senate

The congressional jury is out on just which federal employees will benefit from a locality pay provision attached to an appropriations bill that passed the Senate last night.

To be sure, the provision sponsored by Sens. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and William Roth, R-Del., will help government workers in high-cost, big cities. It would gear the raises to a complicated formula that rewards federal work forces where private and local government pay is higher than the national average in various pay categories.

But a Glenn spokesman says a formula workout that the senator ran when he first introduced his locality pay bill last March doesn't necessarily apply. Glenn released figures then saying 19 metropolitan areas would qualify for higher pay.

Getting the biggest payoff under the March scenario were federal workers in San Jose, Calif., and San Francisco, who would get an average $6,974 and $5,358 in annual raises, respectively. Government employees in Washington were to get an average $3,268 salary boost.

Plenty of big cities would be left out, however, including Baltimore and Glenn's largest Ohio city, Cleveland. And the Glenn spokesman said the March computation was only "a trial run" and that the bill would not necessarily provide the raises where indicated earlier.

That announcement may well have been to ward off senators with amendments to include their own metropolitan areas with large numbers of government worker-voters. One such senator was Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who was prepared to propose that her hometown, Baltimore, be combined in a Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area in order to compute locality pay.

Had there been a rush of amendments, costs in this deficit reduction-dominated year could have gone through the roof. As it is, the Glenn raises will cost more than $1 billion over the next five years. A more expansive House pay reform proposal would cost up to $15 billion.

The door remains open for Baltimore because boundaries of locality pay areas would be set by the federal "Pay Agent," which is really a triumvirate of administrators heading the Office of Personnel Management, the Labor Department and the Office of Management and Budget.

The Pay Agent could well combine Baltimore with the District of Columbia and surrounding counties. A local development group, the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association, believes 1990 census figures will be enough to persuade the Commerce Department to make the 17-county region a Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The appropriations bill containing locality pay needs House approval and the president's signature, both of which are now excepted if the House goes along with the less ambitious Senate bill.

'Fair share' voted

The Senate added to the Treasury appropriations bill an amendment that would allow federal agencies around the country to join local programs offering discounted mass transit fares to government employees.

The amendment, formally proposed only a month ago by Mikulski, does not spell out how local programs would work. It only waives for this purpose a federal statute that prohibits government employees from getting pay or benefits beyond their salaries as fixed by statute.

Mikulski got the idea from Montgomery County, a Maryland suburb of Washington. If others copy the "Fair Share" program currently open only to private and local employees there, here is how it would work: The county buys $21 fare cards and sells them for $15 to county agencies and private employers. The employer then sells the cards for $10, providing a 50 percent-plus fare cut incentive for workers to take public transportation. The discount applies to all transit forms -- subways, commuter trains and buses.

Designed primarily as an environmental measure, Mikulski figures the program would be a natural for areas with high concentrations of federal employees and ozone pollution. Cities with both include Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Denver.

Tests offered again

For the second time this year, the Office of Personnel Management is offering its new series of job tests for entry-level occupations. OPM will accept applicants' requests for taking the exams between Sept. 17 and Oct. 31. Tests will be administered in November at local OPM offices.

Called the Administrative Careers with America examinations, they replace the old Professional and Administrative Careers Examination, which was knocked down in a 1982 court opinion. PACE was found culturally biased and flawed because questions were irrelevant to jobs that applicants were to fill.

The new ACWA tests are tailored for six occupational groups. Besides the written portion, agencies will fold into a single qualifying score the applicant's biographical profile designed to indicate how well he or she has "used the opportunities they have had in school, work, and outside activities."

The so-called Individual Achievement Record excludes questions about attributes, such as parents' educational level, that are beyond an applicant's control.

This round of tests for the GS-5 to GS-7 pay range ($16,305 to $20,195) will be for business, finance and management; personnel, administration and computer occupations; benefits review, tax and legal; and law enforcement and investigation.

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