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Defense official outlines details about pay freeze for civilian workers

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Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 12:00 pm

By Karen Parrish

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - Defense Department civilian employees affected by the federal pay freeze for 2011 and 2012 will still have the opportunity to receive performance awards, promotions and normal longevity increases, a senior defense official said.

Pasquale "Pat" M. Tamburrino Jr., deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, told American Forces Press Service in a recent interview that senior leaders are working to ensure that employees are treated fairly during the freeze.

"We value the contributions of our career federal employees, and we value their service to the nation. Nothing has changed there," he said. From the time the pay freeze was announced, Tamburrino added, the emphasis has been on ensuring all federal employees receive equal treatment.

"Whether you're the most junior civil servant on the first day of the job or you're a member of the executive leadership team, it applies to you," he said.

Defense leaders, he noted, have been "very clear" in directing that the freeze should affect all employees equally.

"Not everything is covered by statute," he said, noting that heads of agencies have some administrative discretion in some dimensions of pay. But guidance on the pay freeze instructs agency heads to manage administrative privileges the same way the president treated general pay increases in the executive order, he added.

"You should not use that privilege to grant a pay raise," he said.

Tamburrino said he encourages managers to use the tools that always have been available to them - and still are - to reward employees.

"When it's appropriate, you give somebody a performance award," he said. "If you tell them the organization has five or six goals, and they do a lot of heavy lifting to help you get to those goals, then I think you should sit down as a leader and say, 'We have to recognize that.'"

Most employees, he said, want three things: clear guidance on the management team's priorities, the tools and resources necessary to complete their work, and coaching and feedback.

"Financial compensation is important because it is; we all have financial obligations that have to be satisfied," he said. "But what's really important as well is [that] you want to tell your employees, 'You're doing a really fine job.'"

President Barack Obama announced his intent for a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian workers Nov. 29. Congress approved the proposal, and Obama signed it into law Dec. 22.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a memorandum Dec. 30 to heads of executive departments and agencies, detailing how the freeze applies to the federal work force in accordance with existing law and presidential guidance. The Defense Department issued guidance in line with the OPM's the same day.

"It's a response to the difficulties the country is facing, and I think what's really good about it is (that) it's universal," Tamburrino said. "You have to have a very clear understanding of what's in and what's out, because that's what affects employees."

The freeze covers what have traditionally been known as general pay increases, he said, which normally take effect each January and consist of a combination of base pay and locality pay increases for most civilian employees. Federal civilian pay increased an average of 3.5 percent in 2008, 3.9 percent in 2009, and 2 percent in 2010, according to government figures.

According to the OPM guidance, the freeze, which extends though Dec. 31, 2012, affects some 2 million federal civilian employees in most pay systems: general schedule, executive schedule, senior executive service, senior foreign service, senior-level and scientific, and professional. Postal employees and military service members are not affected by the freeze.

However, OPM officials said, the pay freeze policy may not apply to any increase that is required by a collective bargaining agreement that has already been executed.

Except for minor instances in Alaska, Hawaii and other nonforeign areas, locality pay also is frozen, Tamburrino said.

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