New pay ‘gap’: Congress and you!

President Trump wants to cancel any across-the-board 2020 pay raise for federal civil servants. He wants to use the money for a new merit pay system that would reward workers based on actual performance. No surprise there — he proposed the same thing for 2019. But during the 35-day government shutdown he compromised and went along with a last minute 1.9% adjustment that was retroactive to January 2019. This year things were looking better, earlier. For awhile. Then…

Just this week, House Democrats at the committee level approved a 3.1% civil service pay increase effective next January. That amount would include both a general across-the-board increase of 2.6% for everyone, plus another 0.5% that would be allocated for locality differentials. Thanks to locality pay, workers in Washington D.C., Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, New York City and other high wage areas that earn more than their counterparts. In the past, the Senate, controlled by Republicans, have more often than not gone along with — sometimes actually proposed and approved — pay raises for federal workers. Then political reality reared its head.

So what’s the problem?

In a nutshell: Some of you, or at least some your bosses, make more than most members of the House and Senate.

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The “pay gap” is between members of the House and Senate, who get $174,000 a year, and top career civil servants, who in some cases earn $213,600 at the top of the Senior Executive Service.

The Vice President gets $233,000, the Speaker of the House, $223,500 and the majority and minority leaders get $193,400. Pay for senior career government executives ranges from $156,000 to $213,600.

White collar federal pay raises are approved using a complex formula that compares government salaries to similar jobs in the private sector. Members of Congress, who often got the same percentage raises in the past, refer to them as cost-of-living adjustments. The idea is that voters are more likely to understand and tolerate what are supposed to be modest annual adjustments for inflation than the more politically-vulgar sounding term “pay raise.” According to some estimates, about half the members of Congress are millionaires. Which means the other half are not.

Last week, the plan for a quiet inflation catchup raise in 2020 unraveled when senior Democrats decided that any January 2020 raise for politicians would not play well in the November 2020 election. Many first-term Democrats from high-cost areas are struggling to maintain two residences, one in the DC area, the other in their home district. They were looking forward to an increase which now seems unlikely for them.

Rank-and-file members of Congress got $30,000 annually in 1965, $75,100 in 1985 and then up to $141,300 by 2000.

When the automatic cost-of-living adjustment system became subject to a vote, the increases stopped. The New York Times quoted the Congressional Research Service as saying that had members of Congress gotten every COLA since 1992, their pay today would be $210,00 instead of $174,000.

Backers of automatic inflation-adjustments for members of Congress argue that by holding pay down for political reasons, people of modest means can’t afford to be in the House or Senate. And that could turn it into an almost-exclusively club for millionaires. They also say that flatline congressional salaries mean that congressional staffers must hold their own against counterparts at the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and NASA and in the judiciary.

Closer to home, each time members of congress deny themselves a COLA, for political reasons, they make it tougher for career feds to get any pay raise, much less the higher amounts many studies show they deserve.

Failure to raise pay for lawmakers acts as an invisible salary cap for congressional staffers who often have to go up against better paid counterparts in other parts of the government.

Going a decade without a raise has obviously made some members resentful of federal workers, at least when it comes to setting an amount and actually approving a raise.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

Bees serve a whole range of functions. But one function you probably never even considered they could serve is bomb sniffing. Yes, you read that correctly. Bees can actually challenge dogs when it comes to sense of smell. Scientists have actually been researching for some time ways to use bees in that function because the same way they seek out molecular hints of pollen can also be used to detect other minute particles, including traces of materials used in bombs.

Sources: How Stuff Works

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