Off with your wigs!

Tuesday - 2/7/2012, 2:00am EST

When the Obama administration closed the federal pay raise pipeline for the last two years, it failed — either by accident or design — to shut off a little known outlet that provides 3 percent raises for tens of thousands of white-collar feds each year.

Now, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) has introduced a bill that would deny the little-known longevity-based raises through the end of this year. Her bill has 28 cosponsors and is similar to proposals introduced last year in the House. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) introduced a similar freeze on step increases last year.

The longevity — or WIG (within grade) — raises are worth about 3 percent to eligible individuals. That is in addition to any January increase granted the entire workforce. The WIGs, or longevity raises, are granted for time in grade and for satisfactory service. Each GS pay grade has 10 steps. Workers get longevity raises each year in the first three steps of the grades, every two years in the next three steps and every third year in the last three steps of the grade. Workers at the tenth step don't get WIGs.

Most members of Congress understand the regular January federal pay raises very well. The House and Senate are both working on extending the current two-year federal pay freeze. But few politicians are familiar with the semi-automatic step increases and some employees don't think of them as pay raises.

Although many feds bristle when the longevity step increases are referred to as "automatic" a study by the Federal Times last year showed that in 2009, only one in every 6,698 employees were denied a step increase because of poor performance. Of 1.2 million workers (not all of them eligible for a step increase) only 737 were denied, the Times reported.

At the time, Rep.Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said the numbers were proof that the raises are virtually automatic — about 14 percent of all federal employees were judged as poor performers (and therefore not deserving of a 3 percent step increase) by their colleagues. An OPM study estimated that between 3 and 4 percent of all feds were poor performers.

The Office of Personnel Management has repeatedly directed federal managers to police the longevity step system and not allow them to be automatic time-served raises. The Obama administration has made it clear that feds have suffered enough because of the pay freeze. The President's new budget calls for a 0.5 percent raise in January 2013. While that would be one of the smallest on record if passed, unions view it as a positive sign.

Federal unions defend the longevity step increase system and say that if any undeserving employees get one of the raises, it is the result of poor management techniques. Managers contend that denying someone a WIG can lead to long frustrating and time-consuming appeals on a variety of grounds, because most employees receive them

But now, congressonal plumbers are focusing on the source of that leak which has seen the average federal salary rise just over 1 percent despite two years without a pay raise. Most of the increase is the result of longevity step increases or promotions.

And it is only since last year that the longevity-based WIGs have become clear targets. When and if the current two-year January pay freeze is extended, it's likely that WIGs will be banned too.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

What will happen to all the New England Patriots commemorative T-shirts and other apparel printed up in advance? According to MentalFloss, they used to be rounded up and destroyed. Now, they're put to better use. An international humanitarian nonprofit called World Vision collects the merchandise and distributes it to people in disaster and other impoverished areas — but only overseas. As part of the contract with the football leagues, the organization can only distribute donated items outside the U.S.


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