Panel wants equal pay raises for military, civilian employees

FEDERAL WORKERS

June 24, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

A KEY House committee reversed President Bush's fifth attempt to give unequal raises to military and civilian employees in a voice vote this week -- a decision that the rest of Congress and the president likely will uphold.

Final passage would give civilian federal workers and military personnel a 3.1 percent raise.

The issue is a perennial one for advocates of lean government, who see the across-the-board raises as bloating the federal budget during a time of growing deficits and war. Congress, however, hasn't agreed since 1986, the last year civilians earned smaller raises than the military, according to the 2005 Federal Employees Almanac.

"Military personnel and federal civilian employees work side by side and for the same employer," said Maryland Democrat Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who introduced the pay parity amendment, in a statement.

This could, however, be the last year for an across-the-board anything. The Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to begin its new pay-for-performance wage system Aug. 1, if the courts allow it.

Speaking of which ...

Personnel reforms

Five unions have asked a federal judge this week to block the overhaul of DHS' personnel system until the courts rule on its legality.

The MAX HR plan centers on three key principles: stop automatic raises, curb unions' rights and make it easier to fire people. The changes, officials have argued, would improve productivity and make the work force more responsive to change, especially new terrorism threats.

Federal officials also have said that personnel reform is one way to counter the perception that federal workers are lazy and rewarded for longevity, rather than good work.

"It'll allow us to build a good and credible work force and add flexibility." said Larry Orluskie, a spokesman for DHS.

The injunction is one step in a long legal battle over unions' rights under the new rules, which the White House is working to spread governmentwide.

In forming DHS three years ago, Congress gave the agency wide leeway to write its own human resources system. But Congress also required officials to preserve unions' rights.

The unions argue that the new rules in this area go too far. They would automatically override parts of existing bargaining agreements, including provisions governing overtime, work assignments, punishments, and negotiations over the impact and implementation of management decisions.

"No one will be served ... by a federal agency, charged with protecting the security of our homeland, operating contrary to federal law," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which is leading the suit.

Base-closing hearing

Members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission will host a regional hearing July 8 in Baltimore on the Pentagon's plan to shift more than 6,000 jobs to Maryland.

Proposed closures and changes in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey also will be addressed at the hearing.

Under the Department of Defense plan, Delaware is expected to gain 91 jobs, but Pennsylvania and New Jersey would lose more than 5,600 jobs combined. A large number of opponents to the plan from the latter two states are expected at the hearing.

The hearing is to begin at 8:30 a.m. at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. Maryland will have the commissioner's attention for the first hour. The state's delegation is co- ordinating speakers. Once we get a detailed schedule, we will post it on www.baltimoresun.com/federal and print it here.

IRS service centers

A House committee voted this week to bar the Internal Revenue Service from spending money on the closure of 68 taxpayer assistance centers until an auditor reports to Congress on the adverse impacts of the cuts.

The IRS had planned to close the walk-in centers, including four in Maryland, by Sept. 30, putting more than 400 jobs at risk nationwide.

If passed by Congress, the bill would delay the closures but not ban them outright, something treasury employee union leaders want.

The inspector general report should clear up arguments over the steady decline in traffic at the centers, a fact IRS officials use to justify the cost-saving measure. Customers, they say, increasingly favor filing their taxes online.

But in testimony before Congress, IRS taxpayer advocate Nina Olson said that cuts in the services at the centers also are driving down demand.

Answering questions

George Nesterczuk, a key author of the controversial personnel system proposed for the Department of Defense, will answer readers' questions online during the next two weeks.

To submit a question, log on to www.baltimoresun.com/federal and use the form on the right-hand side of the page. You do not have to type something in the "Your Name" field for a question to be submitted.

The writer welcomes your comments and story tips. She can be reached at melis sa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Back issues can be accessed at www.balti moresun.com/federal.

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