Trying to close the salary gap
WASHINGTON -- Since the start of the year, federal workers in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles have been enjoying fattened pay as the government seeks to close the disparity between salaries in the public and private sectors.
But what about federal workers in Washington and Baltimore? They, along with their counterparts in Boston, were initially on the long list of those under consideration for the so-called locality pay. A quick maneuver by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, D-5th, last week could help bring the issue back before the Office of Personnel Management.
The Baltimore-Washington area is well documented as being an area where the cost of living is high. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that a 20 percent pay gap exists between private sector and government employees in the area.
So in an effort to determine if locality pay for Washington is feasible for its thousands of federal workers, Hoyer last week sponsored an amendment requiring OPM to determine whether the area should receive pay raises of up to 8 percent to bring federal workers in line with private-sector employees.
Hoyer's amendment was approved last week by the House Appropriations subcommittee on the treasury, postal service and general government. The bill should reach the full committee by June 13.
The pay disparity "continually causes problems for the federal government in attracting and keeping talented employees who could be paid far more in the private sector," said Hoyer. "We must ensure that the best government remains able to attract the best employees."
The measure requires OPM to review the pay differential in each area where previous studies have determined that federal pay averages at least 15 percent below private industry, including the Baltimore-Washington area. The report would be due by the end of the year.
"We presume the reason they [OPM] didn't pass it is that it would cost too much," says Hoyer spokesman Charles Seigel. "But we don't know that for certain because we don't know how much it really would cost."
Hoyer's office anticipates no problem in getting the report completed by Dec. 31. "They have the information already -- we just want to see it," says Seigel.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., recently introduced legislation that would fight the growing backlog of pending disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
There is currently an average monthly backlog of about 390,000 claims at Veterans Affairs offices and veterans have to wait several months for their claims to be processed.
"Forcing America's brave veterans to wait up to six months for action on disability claims is inexcusable and inhumane," says Mikulski. "This legislation will help cut the red tape and bureaucracy that keeps our veterans from receiving the timely care and attention they deserve."
Mikulski's bill would require the department to make interim payments to veterans whose claims for compensation, pensions or disability payments are not decided within 180 days, the department's own standard for action on claims.
The measure also would require Veterans Affairs to contract for vocational rehabilitation and counseling services for a veteran if the department does not provide care within 60 days of receiving the application.
Drug testing sought:
All federal workers could be subject to random drug testing if Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon, R-N.Y., gets his way.
Although Solomon's latest effort to mandate the testing met with defeat last month, the conservative congressman prides himself on his anti-drug stance and vows to attach the measure to every authorization bill that comes before Congress.
"Working in the federal government is as much of a privilege as anything else," says Dan Amon, spokesman for Solomon. "And its workers should set an example."
"I guess it's sort of like charity begins at home," Amon says.
For two years, Solomon has been introducing his measure, with varying success. This year, however, the six-term Republican is the ranking minority member of the House Rules Committee, the panel that decides the rules and the order of business of the House.
Federal employee unions are not too thrilled about efforts such as Solomon's.
"Such efforts are ill-conceived, unnecessary and expensive," says John N. Sturdivant, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Sturdivant notes that "no evidence has ever been presented either prior to the imposition of the 1986 Executive Order 12564, or since, to demonstrate that a drug problem exists in the federal government."
In fact, he says, fewer than 0.5 percent of those tested under the order, which covered the 20 percent of federal employees who work in sensitive or security-related positions, had positive results.
"It's very quick to work, as we've seen in the Armed Forces," says Amon. Solomon's latest effort, inserted in the State Department authorization bill, was soundly defeated by the full House last month, 265-145.