Members Say GAO Needs Larger COLAs

Posted February 4, 2008 at 6:48pm

Government Accountability Office officials want to give employees a 3 percent raise this year, but several high-profile Democrats think it should be more.

Thirteen lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), sent GAO chief David Walker a letter asking him to increase the annual cost-of-living raise to 4.49 percent — the same as executive branch employees in the Washington-Baltimore region.

The letter appears to be the latest development in a long-running disagreement over the GAO’s market-based pay structure. Walker implemented the system in 2004, dividing employees into different “bands” that helped determine their salaries. He also denied hundreds of GAO employees their annual cost-of-living increases after a study he commissioned found that those employees were being paid above market levels.

Employees’ salaries, however, should still keep up with year-to-year inflation, argues Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia.

“I assume that Mr. Walker’s decisions are based upon efforts to rectify some of [the pay disparity],” said Davis, who initiated and signed the letter. “Of course, it’s our position that it’s a very simple decision and that is, if they are employees and work and perform at the acceptable level then of course they should receive the full cost-of-living increase.”

Most of the Democrats on Davis’ subcommittee signed the letter, as well as several Members who represent constituents in the D.C. area. In the letter, they argue that the agency might turn prospective employees away by not keeping up with the rest of the government.

“If GAO continues its practices of not matching GAO employees’ pay with what all other federal employees receive,” it says, “it will surely send the message to the most talented job seekers that they will do better at other federal agencies compared to working at GAO.”

Walker will respond to the letter later this week and won’t publicly comment on it until then, said GAO spokeswoman Susan Becker. However, a similar letter was sent to Walker by several of the same Members in 2006, asking Walker to explain why, at the time, he denied some employees cost-of-living increases.

In his response, Walker said he would not grant such increases automatically to any employee paid above market value.

“Doing so would be an imprudent and an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, especially in light of the increasing budgetary constraints being placed on GAO and many other federal agencies,” he wrote at the time.

Davis said he was confident the subcommittee and Walker could work out an agreement on the pay dispute once they sat down to discuss it.

Meanwhile, GAO’s new union has been negotiating with the agency on the same issues. Employees were motivated to unionize after Walker restructured the pay system, and GAO analysts have said that a priority is to ensure cost-of-living increases.