Executive willing to take pay cut -- but not alone

Federal Workers

September 16, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- A Social Security Administration executive who stands to lose $5,200 a year under a pay cut proposed by President Bush, says he's willing to make the sacrifice.

But the SSA executive is willing only if well-paid private sector workers share the burden.

The executive, who did not want his name used, said he would accept the proposed 5 percent pay cut because he is worried that the huge federal deficit could lower the standard of living of his two young children. People like him who are well off should shoulder more of the cost of reducing the deficit, he said.

"But if I'm going to suffer, and I'm willing to take the pain, then I want to be part of a larger movement with people who are feeling some pain as well," said the executive, a member of the Senior Executive Service. "It seems to me that a lot of people making a lot of money ought to have their taxes increased."

In a speech last week before the Economic Club of Detroit, Bush proposed the pay cut for federal employees earning at least $75,000 a year. "Taxpayers have tightened their belts. The better-paid federal workers should do the same," the president said.

The SSA executive, a career federal employee who said he is generally supportive of Bush, has not taken time to figure out how much could be lopped off of his $104,000 annual salary. "I didn't calculate it because sometimes around election time, statements are made that aren't really serious," he said.

Also, figuring in the 3.7 percent pay raise scheduled for January 1993, the cut would amount to only 1.3 percent, he said.

But, according to Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executive Association, it is not clear whether the pay raise will go into effect if the president goes through with the cut.

The association, which represents members of the Senior Executive Service, is also trying to find out if a pay cut would be legal. "We have directed our general counsel to explore the legal bases for a suit if the president really does do this," Bonosaro said.

More legal research is also needed to clarify who among the 54,102 federal employees who make over $75,000 would be affected by the proposed cut. The salaries of General Schedule employees are determined by legislation, so Congress would have to approve any changes.

Other groups, such as federal judges, senior technical workers, postal workers and military employees, also are exempt. That leaves the 7,000 Senior Executive Service members, about 10 percent of whom are political appointees, the most likely to be affected, Bonosaro said.

Bonosaro added that the White House's projected savings from the pay cut appear to be based on an assumption that it would be applied to all federal workers earning over $75,000.

Despite speculation that Bush is merely using federal employees as scapegoats this election year and won't really go through with the cuts, Bonosaro said, she has taken the announcement "at face value."

Many in the senior executive ranks are worried, she said. There have been "a lot of calls, a lot of unhappy people who, if this proceeds, I think will be very demoralized because it took us so long to reach some measure of comparability" with the private sector.

The pay agreement of 1990 was an attempt to close the average 28 percent pay difference between federal and private sector salaries.

The 1990 pay pact was seen by both federal employees and the Bush administration as the only way to guarantee that a high quality government work force can be recruited and retained.

Now those problems could be back, Bonosaro said.

Senior executives who are near retirement also are likely to bow out earlier rather than later since the pay cut would reduce their retirement annuities, Bonosaro said. "It's a very effective way to TTC clean out the executive corps," whether that is the intention or an unwitting side-effect, she added.

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