U.S. Military Personnel Should Stand With Their Federal Civilian Counterparts on the Federal Pay Freeze

The author of Thoughtsworththinking.net believes that President’s Obama’s approach to freezing the pay of federal employees is flawed, and calls on members of the United States’ armed forces to stand with their colleagues in the civilian federal service in the discussion to address the proposed federal emplyee pay freeze.

Federal civilian employees include FBI, Secret Service and CIA agents, U.S. diplomats (who can be at greater risk than undercover intelligence agents since their identity is known), and employees in other roles where their immediate safety and lives can be in jeopardy.  They also include people who — while not in positions that involve physical peril — perform vital public functions, like prosecuting violations of federal law and ensuring the voting rights of all Americans.  Trying to distinguish between the risk of bodily harm posed by and/or and the criticality of these different roles simply based on the distinction of whether or not a person wears a uniform is impossible.

I am generally supportive of President Obama, who faced more than his fair share of challenges as an incoming president due to the economic and military mess left over by the previous administration, but the President’s proposal to freeze the pay of federal civilian employees while giving the military a planned raise is an overly sweet morsel that members of the uniformed services should resist embracing.

Rep. Steny Hoyer

A better approach is the direction advocated by House Majority Leader (and soon to become House Minority Whip) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who has called for equal treatment of uniformed and non-unfirmed federal executive branch employees in determining salary increases or freezes, with the exception of armed services members deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other front-line assignments.1  This approach ensures that a pay freeze would not affect those truly in harm’s way, while not over-sweetening the pot for armed service members generally, a result that could backfire when other critical military benefits, like low premiums for the military Tricare health-care system, or other active duty and veterans’ benefits are challenged.  These emoluments are already under attack,2, and favorable treatment on the pay question in comparison to federal civilian counterparts could easily be leveraged by adversaries to step up the pressure.

Resisting a pay increase that can seemingly help secure ones future and provide for family is hard to do.  But just as it’s wise to keep an eye peeled for traps on the battlefield, one should be wary in life of offers too good to be true.  A military pay raise while federal civilian pay is frozen is a short-term boon that could boomerang into an argument used to dilute long-term military benefits of greater value.  And standing together with others who serve is the right thing to do.

  1. See “Hoyer Statement on President’s Proposed Federal Employee Pay Freeze, Nov. 29, 2010, at http://www.majorityleader.gov/content/hoyer-statement-presidents-proposed-federal-employee-pay-freeze . []
  2. See “Military Retirees Resist Push to Cut Health Costs,” The Wall Street Journal,  Dec. 3, 2010, p. A5. []

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