Sen. Cardin backs ‘justified’ 5.3 percent pay raise for feds next year

Add Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to the list of congressmen calling for a higher pay raise for federal employees in fiscal 2017. Many feds could avoid the ongoing battle over locality pay locations, he said, if Congress approved higher, across the board raises.

“Locality pay doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Cardin said during a March 7 town hall meeting with employees at the Food and Drug Administration. “It doesn’t. There are people who live in higher cost areas that are not getting that than people who live in the areas that are getting it. What we’re trying to do is get a review of this in an objective sense to make the pay more realistic to the needs.”

Cardin addressed a question from one employee who moved from Houston, Texas to Maryland to work for the FDA. In Houston, he received a locality pay adjustment. But he doesn’t get one in Maryland, where the cost-of-living is much higher than it is in Texas, he said.

The Federal Salary Council voted in November to change some of the criteria for studying and adding new locations as federal locality pay areas. The Federal Pay Agent added 13 new locations in the fall, bringing the total number of locality pay areas to 47.

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But Cardin said federal employees would have fewer concerns about locality pay and the areas that qualify for an adjustment if they received better pay raises overall.

“It would be in a much better shape if our compensation was adjusted annually at the right levels and they had the right number of people to carry out their mission,” he told Federal News Radio. “We didn’t have these types of discriminatory actions that have cost our federal workforce fair compensation, and I don’t think we’d have this same anxiety over locality pay.”

Cardin publicly called for a 5.3 percent pay bump for federal employees in 2017, which is in line with the raise Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and 32 other congressmen proposed in the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act. It’s well over the 1.6 percent pay raise President Barack Obama  suggested in his 2017 budget request.

Connolly’s proposal would account for a 3.9 percent raise overall and a 1.4 percent raise in lost locality pay.

“5.3 percent is what is justified, that’s what would be the appropriate amount,” Cardin told Federal News Radio. “1.6 percent is appreciated, but it still would mean another a year of less than the real additional cost to federal workers, so they’d lose ground. They’ve been losing ground for the last five or six years.”

Cardin said he would fight for a 5.3 percent raise — or a number close to it— because federal employees have already contributed too much to deficit reduction over the past several years.

“Sometimes Congress just has a strange way of saying thank you,” he said. “You wonder sometimes if you’re appreciated as you’re being told that because of sequestration or government shutdowns or continuing resolutions, you can’t do your work. Or you’re being told that because of budget problems that were totally unrelated to anything that was done here, you’re going to be asked to carry on your mission with less people, or to carry on more missions with less people. That’s just not right.”