House committee remains mum on federal pay raises

Thursday - 6/21/2012, 5:43am EDT

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The House will consider a key spending bill that remains silent about whether federal employees will receive pay raises in fiscal 2013.

The Appropriations Committee Tuesday sent its version of next year's Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill to the full chamber without language about salary increases. In doing so, panel members followed the Senate Appropriations Committee, which also opted to stay silent on the issue. The question remaining deals with how, if at all, Congress would address compensation.

President Barack Obama requested a 0.5 percent increase for civilian employees in his budget blueprint. But critics have said extending the current pay freeze is the most prudent course of action, as the government tackles mounting debt and the country continues to suffer from effects of the economic downturn.

House lawmakers have been freezing the civilian workforce's pay bill-by-bill instead of the broad brush of the Financial Services and General Government bill.

Budget cuts

Aside from the issue of pay raises, the House version of the Financial Services and General Government bill would cut 2013 funding for a number of agencies by $2 billion when compared with the president's request, including the Office of Management and Budget, which would lose $11 million, and the Office of Personnel Management, which would receive nearly $1 million less for its general fund.

Colleen Kelley, president, National Treasury Employees Union

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is tasked with enforcing the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, would take in $195 million less than what it requested. But it would receive a net gain of $50 million when compared with 2012 levels.

Opponents maintain the funding bill would cause more harm than good.

"For a bill that is largely comprised of salaries and expenses for numerous federal agencies, this allocation, if enacted into law, would result in a substantial reduction in services to the public, severely hinder many very basic functions of government and cause furloughs, layoffs and vacancies at a time when employment remains the nation's top concern," said committee ranking member Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.).

The National Treasury Employees Union argued the bill would hurt the government's ability to take in revenue.

"The appropriations bill provides the IRS with $11.8 billion for fiscal year 2013, which is $944.5 million less than the administration requested," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley in a statement. "Without the resources it needs to collect revenue and deliver vital taxpayers services, the IRS is unable to collect billions needed to address our nation's deficit."

House appropriators included a little more than $21 billion in total funding, which is $376 million below this year's level and 13 percent less than what agencies received in 2010, according to the bill report.

Supporters say cuts are necessary to place the government on a more sustainable trajectory as the national debt rises.

"Our federal debt is approaching $16 trillion, and this bill meets the goal of reducing spending at federal agencies while preserving their important responsibilities to the American people," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), chairwoman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.

But even as some agencies would lose funding, others would gain when compared with funding levels the White House asked for. The Small Business Administration, for example, would receive an additional $48 million, according to committee documents. Likewise, the Office of Government Ethics would take in an additional $527,000. OGE leaders have expressed concern that agency resources are stretched too thin as its caseload increases.

In addition to funding cuts and increases, the bill seeks to prevent a repeat of abuses that brought to light in an April inspector general report revealing that the General Services Administration spent more than $800,000 on a Las Vegas conference.

The appropriations measure aims to abolish the "Building Operations" account, which financed the conference, replacing it with two separate accounts in an effort to restrict spending by the Public Buildings Service.

"The level of funding provided by the committee for 'Building Operations and Maintenance' and [Public Buildings Service, Salaries and Expenses accounts] ensures resources are adequate to address expenses necessary to oversee a construction project, keep a federal building in working condition and negotiate new leases, but scarce enough to starve out opulence and frivolity," stated the committee's report.

In another effort to crack down on GSA spending, the committee adopted an amendment to prohibit funding for bonuses due to GSA employees undergoing misconduct investigations. Lawmakers also limited the amount of bonuses any GSA manager could receive.

"The committee requires GSA to apply current limitations on employee awards to fiscal year 2013 funding. Total spending on individual performance awards for members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and senior-level (SL) and scientific and professional (ST) employees is limited to no more than 5 percent of their aggregate salaries. Total spending on individual performance awards for non-SES/SL/ST employees is limited to no more than 1 percent of their aggregate salaries," the report stated.

The committee also approved the president's request for $16.4 million for the E-Government Fund. The 2013 level would be $4 million more than GSA received in 2012.

"[T]he committee directs GSA and the Office of Management and Budget to submit a detailed expenditure plan prior to obligation of funds under this account. The plan should describe the projects selected, and the budget, timeline, objectives and expected benefits and savings realized for each project," the committee's report stated.

GSA also would receive $9 million for the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals

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