Federal Pay Raise Issues May Be Political, But They Are Not Partisan

Federal Pay Raise Issues May Be Political, But They Are Not Partisan

FedSmith.com readers have had plenty to say about the proposed pay increases for federal employees, both the 3.5 percent increase approved by Congress and the 1.5 percent pay increase proposed by President Bush and whether federal civilian employees should receive the same percentage increase as their military counterparts.

While there are certainly legitimate arguments that can be made for both points of view in this particular area, one area where there has been some confusion, or at worst collective memory loss, is the President’s role in suggesting increases for the federal workforce.

It seems that many of the readers feel that the president, actually that this particular president, purposefully has it in for federal civilian workers. Numerous readers have blasted the administration – some even going so far as to suggest that perhaps those federal employees that voted for Bush should be the ones who get the smaller pay raises. “You asked for it, you got it,” seems to be the rallying cry among many angry federal civilian workers.

Here are just a few of the comments FedSmith.com has received regarding President Bush’s proposed 1.5 percent pay increase:

— “I think that all federal employees that voted for Bush should get the 1.5% pay increase that Bush really wants to give federal employees. The rest of us should get the full 3.5% increase.”

— “Folks, the wrangling over our raise is something that we should all come to expect. Our president, like him or not, is not and has not been Federal worker (or workers in general) friendly and it doesn’t look like it will change any time soon.”

— “For those of you who voted for Bush, this is one reason why I did not, now we all must suffer the next four years. I predict all future pay increases, if we get any, will be very very small.”

— “I have never understood any federal employee voting for Bush, given his and his administration’s overt hostility to federal employees.”

Indeed, to hear the federal unions carrying on about the issue one would be forced to assume that never before had a sitting president proposed a smaller pay increase than what Congress proposed.

However, the reality is much, much different. A glance at history shows that President Bill Clinton, no less than seven times, proposed smaller increases for federal workers. Ranges of proposed pay increases included zero percent to 4.5 percent – very similar to the historical proposals from President Bush.

Based on a law signed by former President Bush and pushed by a Democratic Congress in the early 1990s, federal workers were supposed to get automatic pay raises designed to “close the gap” between the same jobs in the federal and private sectors.

President Clinton had the first opportunity to implement the new pay law in 1993 – which he promptly responded to by proposing a zero federal pay increase. Just imagine the response if Bush had proposed a zero federal pay increase.

In fact, Clinton actually proposed a lower pay raise than called for by the pay law every year of his administration. The current president has followed suit as well.

Luckily for federal employees, each year a powerful bi-partisan coalition made up of members of Congress that represent heavy federal employee constituent bases has succeeded in routinely delivering higher pay raises and in ensuring that pay parity continues to exist between federal civilian and military employees.

While the decisions affecting federal pay increases may be political, the fact that a president proposes smaller increases for federal workers is at least not partisan. In this area, the two administrations look remarkably similar.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47