Single locality pay scale recommended for region

Federal workers

June 30, 1993|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Some Baltimore-area federal employees could receive higher locality pay raises under a recommendation to include Baltimore and Washington in the same statistical pay area.

The Federal Salary Council, an independent advisory group of union representatives and academics, recommended last week that one locality pay scale be used throughout the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Statistical Area, plus St. Mary's County, which is not part of the MSA.

Locality pay is designed to bring government salaries in line with the private sector. The average federal-private pay gap has been estimated at about 30 percent, making it difficult for the government to recruit the best workers.

Linkage with Washington could mean a substantial earnings boost for Baltimore clerical workers because they receive, on average, much lower salaries than their counterparts in Washington. Professional and administrative workers, on the other hand, are not likely to see much of a change since their salaries are similar in the two cities.

Tony Ingrassia, chairman of the salary council, said pay levels of "professional-administrative" workers are similar nationwide because such workers often are willing to relocate to a job with higher pay. Clerical salaries tend to vary a great deal from city to city because clerical workers usually look for work in only one locality, so there is less competition among employers, he said.

Technical workers in Baltimore generally earn slightly less than their Washington counterparts, Mr. Ingrassia said, but the difference is much smaller than that between clerical workers in the two cities.

Overall, the decision "helps Baltimore a little bit, it hurts Washington a little bit, but it's a slight percentage difference," said Al Levy, executive vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees at Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn.

Mr. Ingrassia cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the earnings differentials of the two cities. The impact of combining Baltimore and Washington salary data "won't really be known until the methodology [for calculating locality pay] is determined," he said.

The Office of Management and Budget under the Clinton administration has objected to the way the Office of Personnel Management calculates locality pay, saying some workers would overpaid using OPM's math. The salary council is awaiting OMB's proposed changes in the formula before it begins calculating locality pay levels for the Washington-Baltimore area and the 26 other areas announced last week.

Both of the salary council's recommendations -- the delineation of pay areas and the pending calculation of pay levels -- go to the president's pay agent, a group consisting of OPM Director Jim King, OMB Director Leon Panetta and Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

The council does not have a deadline for making its recommendations, Mr. Ingrassia said, but the pay agent must present its plan to the president by Dec. 1.

Mr. Ingrassia said it is impossible to predict whether the pay agent will accept the council's recommendations. "There is no precedent" to go by because the locality pay plan is new, he said.

The future of locality pay is further muddied by proposed changes in its implementation date. Under current law, locality pay is scheduled to go into effect in January 1994. The administration, in an effort to save money, proposed pushing back the implementation date one year. The House has voted for a six-month delay and the Senate has not acted on the matter.

St. Mary's County and Santa Barbara County, Calif., near Los Angeles, were the only two nationwide that the council voted to include in pay areas despite the fact that they are not part of adjacent MSAs. The selection was based on criteria such as the number of federally employed residents and economic linkage with the pay area.

St. Mary's is the only county in this region that is not part of the Washington-Baltimore MSA, Mr. Ingrassia noted.

He said the council decided to use MSAs as the basis for pay areas because of recent precedents in Congress. Locality pay for federal law enforcement officers and for all federal workers in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco is distributed according to MSAs, he said.

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