2.3% in 2006? Pay raise drama begins in earnest

Pay parity has become a mantra for some Congressional representatives and it has worked on the floor of Congress. The political environment is different this year and the results may not be the same.

It’s that time of year again.

The ink is dry on the paperwork implementing the 2005 pay raise for federal employees. We can now start working on the paperwork for the 2006 pay raise. It starts today.

According to the Washington Post, in the new federal budget to be released today (February 7, 2005), President Bush will propose a 3.1 percent pay raise for military personnel and a 2.3 percent increase for federal employees under the General Schedule.

If this has a familiar ring, it probably means you have been working for the federal government for the past several years. The typical scenario is that the president proposes a salary increase and Congress eventually rejects it and puts in a higher number. The final pay raise actually takes place sometime between January and the spring of the following year.

That may play out again this year. No doubt, most federal employees will be hoping for the 3.1 percent raise that military personnel are scheduled to get.

There are several differences this year that may change the outcome.

It would be easy to tell readers what they want to hear with regard to pay and benefits. It keeps our e-mail on an even keel and leads to a lot of positive comments. Human nature being what it is, that makes those of us working at FedSmith.com feel good.

But also keep in mind that those of us who work for or work with the government on a regular basis have different perceptions than those Americans whose primary contact with the government is going to the Post Office or filing a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. I realize that numerous readers who get through the next few paragraphs will have a reaction that is somewhere between blind rage or a strong sense of being a victim. Feel free to vent in the comments section if you are so inclined. Feel free to state I should not even be raising these arguments because they are upsetting or you don’t believe them or they are “just plain wrong.”

We like to provide a forum for a lively discussion. But ignoring the arguments and sentiments of those who don’t see the same news reports or have the same self-interest as many of our readers doesn’t make them go away or make them any less persuasive to those in Congress.

That’s my defense and I am sticking to it.

Here are the political realities facing the federal pay raise in 2006.

First, the President is working to cut federal spending or, in some instances, cut the amount of the spending increase for some programs. The trend in federal budget cuts will create a new political environment that has not existed in the past several years.

Second, there is a new Congress that is likely to be more responsive to the President’s budget proposals. A lower raise for federal employees will not play well in suburbs of Washington, DC or large federal regional cities. But in much of America, a lower raise for federal employees has a good ring to it which translates into political appeal for many in Congress.

Third, there is a general perception that many federal employees are already well-paid, have excellent benefits, have much greater job security than private sector employees, and they don’t work very hard. Feel free to post your comments telling your colleagues why this perception is false, misleading or the result of a conspiracy. But don’t underestimate it’s strength or the number of people in American society who believe all of these things and are quite vocal in their beliefs.

Fourth, pay parity between military and civilians has become a mantra for some Congressional representatives in the DC suburbs and it has played well on the floor of Congress. But American military personnel are getting shot in Iraq. A lot of them are dying. There is likely to be a groundswell of support for the military that does not exist for civilians in the federal government. A large number of Americans, probably most Americans, don’t believe in pay parity. That will have an impact in Congress.

So how much will your raise be in 2006? No one knows.

As always, we will follow the news and give readers an updated perspective as it plays out throughout the rest of the year.

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