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Obama Stands Firm on 2 Percent Civilian Pay Hike

Obama Stands Firm on 2 Percent Civilian Pay Hike

Courtesy AP via YellowBrix

Alyssa Rosenberg | Government Executive

October 02, 2009

Citing the ongoing economic crisis and a ballooning federal budget, President Obama announced he would use his authority to set a 2 percent pay raise for federal employees starting in January 2010.

The proposal angered employee groups and lawmakers who have pushed for pay parity between civilians and members of the military, who are slated to receive a 3.4 percent raise if appropriators follow the guidelines in the 2010 Defense authorization act, or a 2.9 percent boost if Congress sticks to President Obama’s February recommendation. But the Obama administration promised a leading House Democrat that that the president would pursue pay parity in subsequent years.

“A national emergency… has existed since Sept. 11, 2001,” Obama wrote in an Aug. 31 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Likewise, with unemployment at 9.5 percent in June to cite just one economic indicator, few would disagree that our country is facing serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare. The growth in federal requirements is straining the federal budget.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag echoed Obama’s sentiments in a July 9 letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. But, Orszag wrote, “The administration shares your commitment to a strong civil service….The administration is therefore committed in future years to the principle of pay parity between the annual pay increase for the federal civilian workforce and members of the armed services.”

Under the law governing pay for civilian federal employees, workers are entitled to an across-the-board raise equal to 0.5 percentage points less than the growth in the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index. This year, that would have been a 2.4 percent raise, plus an increase in locality pay. But Obama said the $22.6 billion required to implement that pay hike would be too costly. Congress could still override the president’s plan.

Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, criticized Obama for refusing to acknowledge that he simply does not want to raise federal pay.

“We’re operating under a fiction where every year, every president cites a national emergency to avoid a pay raise the law otherwise requires for the federal workforce,” Stier said. “That’s not a way to run a railroad or a way to run a government…. It becomes Kabuki theater, and for an administration that wants transparency, this is not transparency.”

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