Could be the 8.7% FAIR Act promises less than meets the eye

Federal employees like the idea of a solid pay boost, but some are skeptical of its chances, or what it will deliver it it does get passed.

The mailbag filled up fast from my “Working for a living is hard…” column from a couple of weeks ago. All people everywhere harbor passions about work and pay, but the federal context has unique dynamics precisely because the work is public.

I’d written about the current debate over the FAIR Act, which would give federal employees a 4.7% base pay increase next year, plus an average 4% in locality pay. Unions had held rallies, joined by a few members of Congress.

One reader wondered if the characterization of the proposed change was correct at all. She said the locality pay raise would apply to 4% of the locality pay, which in her case is 32% or her total pay. Thus, E. said she would get 4.7% of two-thirds of her pay, plus 4% of one-third. She did the math and that comes out to less than 8.7%.

“This is on my civilian leave and earning statement. I am not getting a 8.7% raise. If we were … my whole hourly rate would be increasing by 8.7%.”

She concluded, “We are not actually receiving a raise of 8.7%. How do they say it’s 8.7%?”

Another chided Congress, not for mischaracterizing the raise, but for not passing it when it had the chance. M., who works in Atlanta, wrote, “It is disingenuous for politicians of a certain party to state that ‘there should be a big pay raise’ when they could have passed one easily just 60 days ago while in control of the House, Senate and White House.” He added, “Put your money where your millionaire mouth is, I say.”

The same reader says he appreciates the grade and step increases as he’s moved through his federal career. But he thinks Congress fails to keep pay in step with inflation. Plus, “the posturing and placeholder pay raise bills, that go nowhere each year, kind of get to me.”

I also heard from Jason Briefel, the director of government and public affairs at the Shaw, Bransford & Roth law firm. He wrote, “I think the bottom line is: Elected officials capitalize on and take advantage of the public service motivation of the workforce. It literally is part of the plan, and they are too politically spineless to bring a plan forward to address pay compression writ large.”

Shaw, Bransford & Roth represents federal employees in disputes with the government, and it hosts a couple of associations. Briefel wrote that when a cabinet official visited one of the associations, the issue of pay equity, or inequity came up. “That official told the audience they should derive ‘psychic income’ from their noble public service work to make up for the pay issues.”

Briefel added, and I add to his add, “psychic income” never paid anyone’s bills, or contributed to their million-dollar Thrift Savings Plan account.

I mentioned public work that you do. This came to mind when I encountered a couple of juxtaposed news stories yesterday.

In one story, so-called foodies, whatever that is, complained about President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden having eaten dinner at a D.C. restaurant the other night. They both like spaghetti. According to the Washington Post, “the mere fact that they both ordered the same entree … set group chats and social media sideline commenters ablaze across the land.”

Sort of summarizes what’s wrong with society, doesn’t it? People digging deep for excuses to judge other people on trivial matters, and doing it at the top of their voices.

Also yesterday morning, this news:  At a Pennsylvania regional airport, Transportation Security Administration officers detected a suitcase stuffed with explosives and kept it off its intended flight. The FBI confirmed the contents. The owner, who’d checked the bag but didn’t board the flight, was arrested a couple of hours later. Feds, working diligently, literally saved lives from a terrible ending.

Some people spend their time, on whatever platform, trying to “influence” other people’s restaurant habits. Others apply their passions to ensuring people live to visit restaurants in the first place.

BTW — ever wonder how TSA obtains the technology to put in officers’ hands so they can detect stuff like this? Check out my recent series of interviews with scientists and the director of the Transportation Security Laboratory. It’s tucked away in nondescript buildings at the nondescript Atlantic City airport. Operated by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, it’s where TSA requirements go to be turned into technology that’s tested, vetted, and made ready for deployment in rough-and-tumble airport environments. It’s long, painstaking work, but they’re driven my the mission.

How do you put a price on that?

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