Still Breathing? Here's Your Raise!

Thursday - 6/16/2011, 4:00am EDT

The brand new government policy of (seriously this time!) denying 3 percent longevity pay raises to unworthy federal workers reminded one long-time fed of putting speed limits on camel races held at the South Pole. That is, he thinks it is "a well-intentioned exercise in futility...An attempt to deal with a problem either that nobody sees as a problem or more realistically, that nobody has the guts to tackle."

Currently white collar (nonpostal) federal workers are under a White House-ordered pay freeze that is scheduled to run at least through the end of 2012. The House is considering proposals that would extend that freeze on January pay adjustments another one to three years.

But the freeze doesn't include so-called Within Grade (WIG) raises that are given employees every year in the first three steps of their grade, every two years for the next three steps and every three years thereafter until they reach the top, step 10, of their grade.

The odds of not getting a WIG are probably somewhere between the chances of being struck by lightning and being mauled by a crazed goat in Manhattan. That is, all three are possible, but not likely.

A 1979 movie about rising through the ranks in Washington. Not a documentary.

The Office of Personnel Management recently reminded federal agencies that the WIG raises are not automatic, even though over the years the number of feds denied WIGs in each agency could probably fit into the smallest office in that outfit.

The WIGs have been under attack since the Carter Administration when they were dubbed "being there" raises, which, critics said, were handed out automatically to people who showed up and didn't do anything criminal or that frightened the horses at the office.

Groups representing federal workers bristle when the WIGs are described as "automatic." But government data show that for the entire year of 2009, only 737 of the government's 1.2 million white collar workers were denied a WIG based on less than satisfactory performance. That, to a lot of people (especially outside of government) either indicates that either the government is staffed almost entirely by "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" people, or that bosses don't want to face the hassle of denying a raise to, as a former OPM staffer said, "anybody short of an axe-murderer. A convicted axe-murderer."

The virtual automatic nature of within grade pay raises is apparently what prompted the OPM to remind bosses that they aren't automatic and should be limited to the vast majority of workers who earn "fully successful" (or equivalent) ratings.

Whether it works or is just talk depends on several things: How many managers crack down on marginal employees (by denying them within grades), how hard employees push back, and the extent that agencies back up their managers.

If Congress sees it as a genuine policy change (actual numbers won't be available for a long time) it could, maybe, defuse efforts to extend the 2011 and 2012 pay freeze indefinitely.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

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