Pay reform to skip BaltimoreWASHINGTON -- The federal...

Newswatch ...on federal workers

December 05, 1990|By Mick Rood | Mick Rood,States News Service

WASHINGTON BAN ON FEE CHALLENGED: — Pay reform to skip Baltimore

WASHINGTON -- The federal employee pay reform bill goes into effect next month, but government workers in the Baltimore-Washington area are unlikely to benefit from the first pay increases mandated under the measure.

It will take several years to implement a system that closes the salary gap between federal employees and their private-sector counterparts, but the measure does give President Bush immediate authority to provide raises of up to 8 percent in areas of the country where the cost of living is higher than in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Federal studies indicate government workers in a number of other cities, including San Francisco, New York, Hartford, Conn., and Honolulu, lag much farther behind their private industry colleagues when comparable job descriptions are matched.

Just looking at the prevalence of special pay rates in various metropolitan statistical areas tell the story. Special rates are a good measure of how far behind public servants are because the salary gap has to be thoroughly documented before those rates are granted.

This fall, the General Accounting Office surveyed the distribution of special rates and found the highest percentages of federal workers getting the raises under current law were in places such as a three-county area north of Trenton, N.J., (48 percent), San Jose, Calif., (37 percent), a three-county area north of San Francisco (48 percent) and Boston (42 percent).

Twenty-nine percent of federal employees in Washington, D.C., have won special rates, but in Baltimore, fewer than 5 percent were getting them in the survey year of 1989.

So it didn't come as too much of a surprise when Federal Employees News Digest, a weekly newsletter published in Virginia, reported recently that Bush plans to grant special raises of up to 8 percent to federal employees only in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The raises would be added to the annual raise of 4.1 percent approved for all federal workers by next January.

Targeting those three cities had been Bush's plan all along, even though Congress insisted on a provision that the administration at least consider other cities where recruitment and retention problems have been severe. An Office of Personnel Management official told the Washington Post that the newsletter's report was speculative because a decision had not been made yet.

Nevertheless, congressional sources expect a short list of cities in which federal workers will benefit initially from pay reform. The reason is the bottom line. A long list of cities would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

A federal ethics agency directive that government employees will not be able to collect speaking or writing fees starting Jan. 1, even if the subject is unrelated to their work, has drawn a lawsuit.

The suit has been filed by Jan Adams Grant, an IRS tax examining assistant from Utah who is a published environmental writer and speaks to church groups, and Thomas C. Fishell, another IRS employee who also is an ordained minister who conducts funerals and weddings.

They were joined in the suit by their union, the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU represents 140,000 federal employees at 16 agencies.

The Federal Office of Government Ethics issued the directive in compliance with the sweeping ethics law passed by Congress a year ago. The measure also bans speaking fees for members of the House of Representatives and curtailed fees for members of the Senate.

"The ethics law stopped the gravy train for members of Congress," said NTEU President Robert Tobias, "but it also derailed ordinary, enterprising federal workers from using their right to free speech to make an honest buck -- on their own time and in totally non-government-related ways."

The union complaint describes the law as it affects regular government employees as "arbitrary . . . invalid and overbroad."

Trouble at Archives:

An attorney specializing in federal employment law has petitioned Congress and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate "wholesale discrimination and reprisals" against employees of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The agency responsible for safeguarding the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, among other documents, is violating the spirit of those documents, charges Edward H. Passman.

Passman says the agency has "a plantation mentality" in dealing with minority and women employees. He says that it is not processing more than 50 discrimination complaints against it in a timely fashion and that the agency is attempting to get rid of employees who complain.

The lead case involves Elaine McKoy, former chief of Archives' Property and Procurement Branch, who was involuntarily reassigned after she objected to a $1.3 million contract that was let to an alleged inferior bidder, Passman contends.

Passman asked Evan J. Kemp Jr., chairman of EEOC, to conduct a special review of NARA's anti-bias program.

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