For 2009, the bill would provide military service members an average 3.9 percent pay raise in fiscal 2009.
In nearly every year for the last 20 years, Congress has, with strong bipartisan support, given equal raises to civilian employees and military personnel.
Federal employee organizations applauded the bill. “We need to start closing the [salary] gap between the public and private sector,” said Jessica Klement, government affairs director for the Federal Managers Association.
In February, President Bush proposed raising federal employees’ pay by an average of 2.9 percent, and service members’ pay by 3.4 percent.
Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va., who sponsored the amendment to require the military raises, said this would not completely eliminate the pay gap between the private sector and the military, but it would leave it at less than one percentage point.
The House passed similar legislation, also sponsored by Drake, as part of its version of the 2008 Defense bill. Although that provision died in negotiations with the Senate, troops and federal employees did get a pay increase this January that was 3.5 percent — 0.5 percentage points higher than private-sector raises.
The Defense authorization bill also contains several measures that could help civilian federal employees who are deployed to war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
One provision would allow agencies to give deployed civilians the same wartime benefits as the State Department’s Foreign Service officers. This could mean deployed civilians would be eligible for danger pay, and if they are killed in a combat zone, their families could receive monthly compensation benefits and funeral expenses.
That provision is long overdue, Klement said. “There are way too many disparities between what the military receives and what civilians get in combat zones,” Klement said. “When a civilian fights side by side with the military in combat, there’s no reason they shouldn’t get the same benefits.”
But the benefits aren’t guaranteed under the provision, which was added by Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark. It would be up to the head of each agency to approve the added benefits for agency employees.
Jacqueline Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said Congress will need to provide agencies with additional money to pay for those benefits, so they don’t end up scraping money from other programs or ignoring the flexibilities.
“Given the hazards [deployed employees face], agencies would have a lot of explaining to do if they don’t use it,” Simon said.
The bill also orders the Pentagon to review and improve how it provides medical treatment to civilians who are wounded in conflict areas. The committee released a report April 30 that said some Defense civilian employees do not receive proper medical care for injuries they suffered in Iraq.
Another provision aims to keep Defense from furloughing its civilian employees during budget crunches. The bill would require the Pentagon to certify that it took all other possible measures before issuing furlough notices. The Pentagon issued furlough notices to 200,000 civilian and contract employees in December when Congress and Bush could not agree on an emergency war supplemental spending bill. The bill eventually passed, and no employees were furloughed.
The bill also orders Defense to consider creating a civilian police officer corps to provide security at military installations.