WASHINGTON -- A 4.2 percent pay raise for thousands of federal workers in Central Maryland seems all but certain after President Clinton signed a government appropriations bill yesterday that would bring government salaries closer to those in the private sector.
The 4.2 percent boost would be the region's first "locality pay" and would take effect in January.
The Federal Salary Council, a labor-management group set up to figure out how far apart federal and private-sector salaries were in 28 different regions nationwide, recommended the 4.2 percent pay raise for white-collar federal workers in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
The administration has until Nov. 30 to make changes in the locality pay recommendation. But the $1.6 billion needed to fund the pay raise was signed into law by the president yesterday, making final approval a formality, congressional staffers said.
"Everybody sees this as a train that's already left the station," said Dan Miller, an aide to Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.
The pay increase would affect most of the state's 271,000 federal workers, although members of the senior executive service will not benefit. Blue-collar federal workers also will receive a locality raise, but the amount has not yet been determined.
The federal government went to great lengths to determine the white-collar wage gap between the public and private sectors. Personnel analysts looked at how much federal workers are paid to do as many as 110 different jobs and then compared their incomes with those of workers who do similar tasks in corporate America.
When the 1990 Census lumped Baltimore and Washington into the same statistical area, Baltimore-based federal workers actually benefited. Their salaries will climb closer to Washington's private-sector paychecks, rather than Baltimore's slightly lower levels.
Federal personnel analysts found that the Houston area was home to the widest gap between federal and private-sector incomes. The Federal Salary Council recommended a 6.52-percent locality pay for federal employees there.
Mr. Sarbanes noted that the proposed locality payment is just the first in a nine-year effort to close the 27-percent average gap between the area's private and federal income levels. For three years, area lawmakers have insulated the locality pay from Capitol Hill budget slashers.
Labor unions expressed relief that "locality pay arrived intact on the president's desk," as National Treasury Employees Union president Andrew Tobias put it. "We now expect Mr. Clinton to help us pave the way to parity with the private sector."
The unions had hoped to preserve both the locality pay and a cost-of-living pay raise. But this summer congressional budget negotiators cut out the latter, which would have increased salaries an additional 2.2 percent in 1994.