Remembering Military Personnel With A Bigger Pay Raise

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Washington Post
May 29, 2007
Pg. D4
Federal Diary
By Stephen Barr
Just a few hours before Congress departed for its Memorial Day break, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a bill that would provide a bigger pay raise for the troops, pump up management oversight at the Defense Department and guarantee union rights under a new personnel system.
The committee's leaders, Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), announced the across-the-board 3.5 percent pay increase for military personnel, which is part of the committee's fiscal 2008 bill authorizing defense programs and funding for weapons. The House approved its version of the bill May 17 and also included a 3.5 percent raise for military personnel.
Advocates for the government's 1.8 million civil service employees are pushing for a "pay parity" increase. Union leaders have said they will urge Congress, which probably will address civil service pay next month, to provide an equal raise to federal employees on the grounds that they, like military personnel, contribute to national security.
President Bush has recommended a 3 percent raise in 2008 for the military and the civil service. After the House vote, his aides said a 3.5 percent military raise would cost the government an additional $7.3 billion from 2008 to 2013. "When combined with the overall military benefit package, the president's proposal provides a good quality of life for service members and their families," an administration statement said.
The Senate bill would designate the deputy defense secretary as the department's chief management officer and would give him a deputy focused on management issues. This new position would be called undersecretary of defense for management (deputy chief management officer).
David M. Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office, has repeatedly urged Congress over the past year to create a chief management official at the Defense Department. The department has trouble producing timely and reliable financial information and has faced recurring problems with cost overruns and schedule delays when buying weapons.
The Senate bill also would add the title and duties of a chief management officer to the undersecretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy in hopes that they will have clout to straighten out the financial books kept by the military services.
The House version of the defense bill proposes a similar management job, a senior position at the undersecretary level to provide "strategic oversight of all significant management issues" at the Defense Department, according to a report accompanying the House bill.
In the personnel arena, the Senate bill would permit the Pentagon to move ahead with changes in how it hires, pays, promotes and disciplines civilian employees, an initiative called the National Security Personnel System.
But the Pentagon would be required to negotiate with unions, as permitted under regular civil service law. The NSPS had sought to sharply curb union rights, prompting a court dispute that has slowed its implementation.
Congressional aides described the Senate's modification of the National Security Personnel System as narrow, compared with the House bill that repealed or changed major provisions. As an example, one aide said, under the Senate bill, unions would not be able to bargain over the framework of the NSPS, but could negotiate over future Pentagon directives and how any workplace changes would be applied to employees.
The Senate bill, however, does propose a major change that would exempt blue-collar workers at the Defense Department from the new system. Pentagon officials want to have blue-collar and white-collar employees covered by the same pay rules, but the Senate committee decided that was not necessary because the blue-collar workers have a satisfactory pay system and perform markedly different work than their white-collar colleagues.
The Senate bill, if it clears the floor, would be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to reconcile differences. Those negotiating sessions would probably give the Pentagon one more chance to argue its case for the NSPS.
Senior Bush advisers said they would recommend a veto of the House bill because it would create administrative burdens and back away from shifting employees into a more rigorous performance-based pay system.