President Bush's 2007 budget proposal next week is likely to revive the annual tug of war with Congress over whether civilians are entitled to the same pay raises as soldiers.
A key union leader said that civilian workers "should not be surprised" if Bush proposes a 1.7 percent across-the-board raise for them, which, if enacted, would be the second-lowest since 1958, according to the 2005 Federal Employees Almanac. (In 1994, there was no national raise.)
A three-member group of high-level government appointees recommended that raise to the president in December. It is based on a formula in the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, which was passed to bridge the gap between federal workers' wages and private sector pay.
The act created "locality pay" - assigning different raises to workers living in different regions - to better compensate workers in high cost-of-living areas, such as Baltimore and Washington. Since the law was passed, however, every president has declared a national emergency and withheld workers' full locality pay.
If Bush had followed the 1990 act's plan, federal workers in Baltimore and Washington would have won an 11.3 percent raise this year, rather than the 3.44 percent they got last month, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.
"On the legal front, we've done extensive research and have not found an opportunity to challenge the national emergency exception," said Colleen Kelley, NTEU's president and a member of the Federal Salary Council. Congress "also has been opposed to the expense of addressing the problems in the legislation."
The year ahead
In addition to pay, here's what's on tap for 2006:
More lawsuits and appeals. Federal unions and the government are expected to continue fighting in federal court over workers' collective bargaining rights at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
The possible emergence of the Working For America Act, which would wipe out workers' current pay system, called the General Schedule, governmentwide.
New dental and vision benefits for federal workers and retirees.
An attempt by Congress to add a real estate investment option to workers' 401(k) plans. The board that oversees the Thrift Savings Plan opposes it.
A new strategy for the Defense Department - called the Quadrennial Defense Review - and preparations for the surge of new defense jobs coming to Maryland through the Base Closure and Realignment Commission process.
More lobbying from federal retirees hoping to be able to pay their health benefits with pretax dollars and get rid of two rules that often reduce or cancel their Social Security benefits.
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