WASHINGTON -- Congressional negotiators agreed yesterday to boost pay for federal employees by an average of 4.8 percent next year, outpacing the 4.4 percent increase proposed by the Clinton administration.
Once approved by the full Congress, the raise would be the steepest for federal workers in more than a decade. Advocates say it represents an important step in making up for the slender pay increases forced by the economic hardships of the early 1990s. Even so, the raise would far exceed prevailing measures of inflation of just over 2 percent.
"It's the biggest increase that I can recall," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers.
A typical federal worker making $57,071 this year would see a $2,740 raise under the measure, though actual pay and increases vary by region. As of the end of last year, there were 130,889 Marylanders employed by the federal government.
The increase exceeds many raises in the private sector, even during the current economic boom.
Bigger than normal
"It's a little bit bigger than the average increase, maybe even by a percentage point or two," said Marvin H. Kosters, who tracks the labor market as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
The pay increase also suggests that the Republican-led Congress now views the federal work force more warmly than it did during the first days of the party's takeover of both houses in early 1995, when anti-government rhetoric was given full voice.
"Federal employees should be paid appropriately for what they do," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House subcommittee that sets government pay.
The two lawmakers included the pay raise as part of a larger measure that reconciles the two different spending bills already passed by the House and Senate for the Treasury Department, the Postal Service and other parts of the civil service.
The pay increase would cost an additional $320 million above the levels promoted by President Clinton, but it does not specify precisely where that money would come from.
The full Congress is expected to vote on the measure this month, perhaps as soon as next week, congressional aides said.
Had the lawmakers not acted, the raise would have been automatically set at 3.8 percent -- a rate calculated from a sample of wage increases in the private sector.
Clinton's budget proposed a 4.4 percent increase for all federal employees, to match his proposed pay increase for military workers.
Advocates for federal workers saw an opening to increase their compensation when Sen. John W. Warner, an influential Virginia Republican, successfully lobbied his Senate colleagues to increase the pay for military personnel by 4.8 percent.
Sarbanes, Hoyer backed
Warner then agreed to support Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, and Hoyer in advocating an identical increase for the country's 1.2 million federal workers in a series of nonbinding measures. The bill devised by Senate and House negotiators, by contrast, would commit the government to granting the 4.8 percent raise.
Additionally, the measure approved by congressional negotiators yesterday included $35 million to consolidate operations of the Food and Drug Administration at a shuttered Navy site in Montgomery County.