Federal Employees Get 2.8% Pay Raise: Clinton Acts to Pre-Empt Bigger One

Article excerpt

Federal employees got a little raise yesterday, one President Clinton called "appropriate" and "meaningful."

In a letter to Congress, Mr. Clinton outlined a 2.8 percent pay raise for 2 million-plus workers, to take effect in January. Though on vacation in Massachusetts, the president was facing a stiff deadline.

Under terms of a 1990 law, white-collar executive branch employees would have received a 10 percent raise in January had he not set a lower rate by Aug. 31.

The greater increase would have cost, the president noted, $7.9 billion in 1998 alone, jeopardizing efforts to balance the budget by 2002 and forcing cuts in discretionary spending.

Mr. Clinton wrote that this would not have been "acceptable for maintaining the economic prosperity of the American people."

The law itself caused a few moments of confusion yesterday as White House spokesman Joe Lockhart tried to explain its finer points during a news conference outside an elementary school on Martha's Vineyard.

It would not, he told reporters, affect White House personnel or Congress. The law, he said, was an "arcane formula."

"We obviously have problems with the methodology," Mr. Lockhart said. "I don't pretend to understand the formula they use, but it's no longer applicable now."

Mr. Clinton proposed the 2.8 percent raise in the federal budget released in February. The package included the elimination of 26,000 positions, which would bring total civilian federal employment to 1.8 million workers - 300,000 fewer than in 1993.

The combination raised hackles among federal-employee unions, which called it unacceptable at the time. …