Worker Groups Criticize Proposed Federal Pay Hike

President Bush's proposed 2.2 percent pay increase for federal civilian and military employees falls short of matching last year's inflation rate of 3.4 percent.

This is Bush's first request for equal military and civilian pay raises, though Congress has always enacted even raises during his presidency. The raise is significantly lower than last year's 3.1 percent boost, and if enacted, will be the lowest since 1988.

Richard Strombotne, president of the Maryland Federation of Chapters of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, worked in the federal government for 34 years. He said parity in pay raises is good, but it fails to provide enough compensation to maintain current standards of living.

"You're asking people to serve their country and do work that the government believes is important," Strombotne said. "And you're only going to compensate them at half the rate of inflation. I think that's a problem."

"The real problem is the pay gap between federal employees and private sector employees, said National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association Legislative Director Judy Park.

"We are delighted that the pay parity was returned with the military," Park said, "But we do feel that we're still a long way from what it would take to bring them up to true comparability in many areas of the country."

The Bush proposed increase is "inadequate," but not necessarily because it doesn't track with inflation, she said. "Employee pay should more specifically track prevailing wages in the country. You're competing in a labor market here, and 2.2 percent doesn't make you very competitive."

Park said the logic is flawed in Bush's insistence of larger raises for the military because of the combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I think particularly in a time of war that's an easier one, he believes, to justify," she said, "But on the other hand, it can be pointed out there are civilians over there, too, and not every member of the military is over there."

Scott Milburn, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, disagreed via e-mail with the assertions that the pay raise is inadequate.

"The administration's proposed pay increase is what is needed for the government to continue to recruit, retain, and reward employees in the labor markets in which the federal government generally operates," Milburn said.

Federal employees are supposed to have slow but steady pay increases so their pay eventually meets that of the private sector, said Maureen Gilman, legislative director of the National Treasury Employees Union.

"The long-term goal is to close that pay gap," Gilman said. "The raise should at least match inflation."

Federal workers should make more and richer taxpayers should be tapped to pay for it, Gilman said.

"Some of the tax cuts that go disproportionately to the wealthy could be going to a lot more worthwhile programs."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.