Pay Raise/Furloughs: A Rocky Ride

Most of us have probably been on at least one white-knuckle airline flight where the weather was terrible, lightning was flashing, the aircraft was bumping up and down and we’d tightened our seat belts to accommodate a 22 inch waist.

At times like that, what you don’t need is for the pilot to pick up the intercom and say something like “ladies and gentlemen, we think we’ll have you on the ground in a few minutes.” Especially if it sounds like he’s been crying. Or praying.


On ground?!

How about, “everything is great folks we will be landing shortly.”

Well, this is your captain speaking: And…

Whether you like it or not, if you are a white collar fed, at the IRS, Defense, GSA, Interior, Justice, Commerce, Transportation and other executive branch agencies, your 2011 pay raise is a passenger, riding coach, on FedPay Flight 1.4.

ETA for returning members of Congress who decide the pay issue is sometime after the November election. Some of them will be in a foul mood. That’s when the lame duck Congress will decide whether to give you the 1.4 percent increase (proposed by President Obama), or maybe give you the same 1.9 percent due the military, or not. It could also decide to cancel the pay raise altogether. And to make-a-gesture of austerity by cutting congressional salaries 10 percent. Or impose a freeze on nonessential federal hiring. Or decide to let you-make-a-gesture by ordering a two week federal furlough, in one day increments, next year.

In normal times, odds would be that your 1.4 percent pay raise will make a safe, soft landing and go into effect (after being parceled out for locality pay differentials) with the first pay period in January. And odds are that Congress won’t freeze federal hiring, cut its own pay or furlough the workforce.

But these are not exactly normal times.

Lobbyists who represent federal workers, managers, executives and retirees say this time things are different. They’ve been through three exercises this year when Congress came close to killing off the 2011 pay raise.

Dan Adcock of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees and Jessica Klement of the Federal Managers Association had the same reaction to the last pay freeze vote in the House. That “it was way too close for comfort.” Klement added that she is “cautiously optimistic.”

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees and Colleen Kelly, who heads the National Treasury Employees Union, are asking congressional friends to stand fast on the pay raise. And they have the IOUs that could be a deciding factor in a close vote. Both say that civilian and military personnel deserve the same, higher, amount although that’s not likely to happen.

Bill Bransford, general counsel of the Senior Executives Association, says “this is not your normal lame duck session Congress” that’s coming up.

If the pundits are correct, turnover in the House could be greater than it is in normal off-year elections. If Republicans can pick up 39 seats in the House (out of 435) they would take control and set the agenda. Virtually all of the cut-federal-program proposals have come from the GOP. But Democrats who survive the election might decide to come aboard, especially with a popular-with-the-public idea like a pay and/or hiring freeze.

Hang on tight. This might get a little bumpy.

To reach me:

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