Defense, Homeland Security Employees Can Expect Same Raise as Others

By Stephen Barr

Wednesday, October 29, 2003; Page B02

Civil service employees at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, who will likely move to new pay systems next year, will receive the same percentage pay raise in January as the rest of the federal workforce, according to congressional aides.

A provision in the fiscal 2004 spending bill for transportation, treasury and general government activities would provide General Schedule employees with an average 4.1 percent pay raise, effective in January. Although the House and Senate have approved the bill, negotiators still must meet to resolve differences on some provisions.

Timelines for when Homeland Security and Defense employees would shift into new pay systems are still being developed. Bush administration officials plan to lay out their goals for Homeland Security employees in proposed regulations that will be issued in December. The Pentagon's transition probably will hinge on how Congress structures a new pay framework in legislation under discussion between House and Senate lawmakers.

According to the spending bill, the 4.1 percent pay raise "shall apply to civilian employees" in Defense and Homeland Security and "shall be effective" in the first pay period in January. The administration did not object to Congress locking in the pay raise for the two departments because it knew that any alternative systems would not be in place by then, an official said.

The provision, however, does not prevent the Bush administration from implementing new pay systems at the two departments in the coming year, the official said.

For example, the official said, the Department of Homeland Security could move to a performance-based pay system and issue regulations that would convert employees from the 15-grade General Schedule to an "open range" system of broader salary grades. As part of the conversion, homeland employees would receive the January raise but might not receive other types of salary increases such as within-grade increases and quality-step increases.

Grassley Seeks to Curb OPM

The Senate has approved an amendment to the fiscal 2004 transportation-treasury bill that would block the Bush administration from tightening up its control over government employees assigned to work in Congress.

The amendment was offered by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has objected to a proposed rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management in September. He was joined in offering the amendment by Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).

Under the proposed rule, the Bush administration would require agencies to obtain the approval of Kay Coles James, the OPM director, when sending employees to work on Capitol Hill. The proposed rule also would limit the time an employee could serve as a "detailee."

Grassley called the proposed rule "wrongheaded" and said it would disrupt a decades-old practice that allows Congress to obtain the expertise of agency employees.

The amendment, Grassley said, would "prohibit the use of any funds for the implementation of this regulation that will severely reduce the number, availability and benefit of executive branch detailees to the legislative branch, to the detriment of all."

Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) also have announced plans to block the OPM regulation.

Cabaniss Confirmed

Dale Cabaniss was confirmed by the Senate last week to a second five-year term as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. President Bush designated her chairman of the FLRA in March 2001. Before joining the FLRA, she served as a staff member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for labor and health and human services, where she was the principal legal adviser to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Aetna on Federal Diary Live Today

Tom Bernatavitz, vice president for Aetna's federal government business, will discuss the 2004 Federal Employees Health Benefits enrollment season and the new Aetna HealthFund, a "consumer-directed" option for employees and retirees, at noon today on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us with your questions and comments.

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