WASHINGTON -- In timing certain to brighten the holiday shopping season, the White House decided yesterday to let a long-awaited 4.23 percent raise for most of Maryland's 271,000 federal workers go into effect in January.
The Clinton administration had a deadline of midnight to propose nTC changes in the so-called locality pay raises, which will begin making federal salaries more competitive with private-sector pay in different regions of the country.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he was told by White House officials yesterday that the Clinton administration will propose no change in the plan. Later, a White House spokesman confirmed that the president had approved the pay raises.
"I'm very happy with the White House decision to support locality pay for federal employees," said Mr. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat who is chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee that handles federal pay issues.
The pay raise will affect most white-collar workers. Members of the Senior Executive Service, the highest-paid federal bureaucrats, will not get the raise, and blue-collar workers are getting a slightly different increase.
The White House decision to allow the locality pay increase to become effective in January ends a political and bureaucratic struggle that began in February when President Clinton announced plans to freeze the pay of federal workers.
Federal employees were expected to get two raises this year: a 2.2 percent across-the-board raise pegged to the average private sector raise; and the locality pay raise, the first of nine annual increases designed to close a gap of nearly 30 percent between federal pay and private-sector pay. The locality pay plan was authorized by Congress and President George Bush in 1990, to begin with the first pay period of 1994.
After the president's pay-freeze announcement, efforts got under way almost immediately on Capitol Hill to salvage at least part of the raise.
Acknowledging that the 2.2 percent raise was dead, congressional negotiators focused on finding a way to finance locality pay, apparently fearing that putting it off might doom it to oblivion in an era of tightening budget constraints.
In the end, Congress and the administration agreed that locality pay would be granted, and that each federal agency would have to find the money for its share of the $1.6 billion first-year cost of the raise without getting additional funds.
Federal pay differences vary from region to region. So, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated the gap for 28 areas of the country. Baltimore and Washington were lumped together, a move that gave Baltimore-area workers a higher raise because their raises are pegged to private-sector pay in Washington, which is slightly higher than in the Baltimore area.
The highest raise -- 6.52 percent -- is going to federal workers in the Houston area.
Once the administration and Congress agreed not to try to delay implementation of locality pay, the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act gave Mr. Clinton little room for maneuvering. The law provided that while the first-year cost could not exceed $1.8 billion, the president could not change the plan unless there were a national emergency or a recession.