OK'd raise for military less than expected

Federal Workers

October 06, 2006|By Melissa Harris

The record $533 billion defense spending bill approved by Congress late last week includes the smallest raise for the military in more than a decade, 2.2 percent, which is less than the amount being considered for civilian federal workers, including those at the Defense Department.

Before recessing to campaign for midterm elections, Congress failed to pass the Treasury spending bill, the piece of the legislation that usually includes pay raises for white-collar workers.

The unfinished Treasury bill includes a 2.7 percent raise for civilian personnel, which matches the raise the House had planned to give military employees in its original version of the defense spending bill.

Combined, the two offered "pay parity," a long-standing principle of awarding the military, their civilian support staff and any other federal workers the same raise.

The House eventually settled with the Senate on the 2.2 percent raise for the military in the defense bill. That could mean that civilians' pay increase will be similarly reduced when the Treasury bill comes up for consideration. No one knows when that will be.

"Given that our troops are currently making many sacrifices, we thought Congress ought to be able to do a bit better," said Steven Strobridge, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America. "Unfortunately, Congress thought otherwise."

In a statement Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the military raise "a shameful decision during a time of war."

Congress also:

Blocked a Defense Department proposal to raise health care fees and deductibles for its 3.1 million retirees younger than 65 and for their dependents, along with co-pays for prescription drugs for all retirees. A task force has been formed to research the issue.

Authorized bonuses for the recruitment and retention of military medical personnel, including scholarships to send GIs to medical school.

A politically charged debate over whether military chaplains could use the word Jesus and other faith-specific phrases in prayers briefly stalled passage of the spending bill.

The Navy and Air Force instituted policies this year requiring chaplains to use more general prayers that would be accepted by a broader group of faiths at mandatory and public events, such as ship christenings.

House and Senate negotiators suspended those policies pending committee hearings on the issue after the election.

Locally, the spending bill delivered more than $1 billion in contracts and military spending to the Baltimore area, according to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office.

On-base highlights include:

$1 million for the Fort Meade Fire Department to purchase new trucks.

$3.9 million for Fort Meade's Project Ancile, a program that is designing systems to protect U.S. government buildings from attack.

$3.25 million for a facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground that would enable the Army to test helicopters while they are in the air but without the engine running.

A more complete listing of the projects can be found at www.mikulski.senate.gov under "News Room."

The writer welcomes your comments and feedback. She can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Recent columns can be read at www.baltimoresun.com/federal.

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