Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Veto of a Bill To Increase the Salaries of Federal Employees.

June 30, 1960

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith, without my approval, H.R. 9883, a bill to increase the salaries of federal employees.

Whenever I have been presented with legislation providing for increases in federal salaries that were justified and warranted, I have unhesitatingly given my approval to such legislation--and I would gladly do so again.

H.R. 9883, however, is indefensible by any light. This hastily drawn bill violates every concept of fairness, every rule of reason and logic. Were this measure to become law, the already conspicuous unfairness and discrimination in our antiquated federal pay system would be greatly intensified. Instead of making progress--by improving the federal pay structure--we would actually be taking a long step backward.

The money cost of all this retrogression--not to mention its intangible costs--would impose an annual burden on the American taxpayer of three quarters of a billion dollars, and the money would not be wisely spent. Such fiscal and legislative irresponsibility, and particularly the bill's basic unfairness and the discrimination it would perpetuate, offend all thinking citizens, federal employees among them, and make this legislation entirely unacceptable.

More specifically, H.R. 9883 is defective in the following respects:

1. The bill totally ignores the recognized precept that the only sound basis for setting federal salaries is reasonable comparability to rates paid for similar work in private industry. Judged by this standard there is reason to believe, from such information as is now available, that a number of federal salaries already exceed private rates of pay for similar work and, conversely, that other federal salaries are below corresponding private compensation. H.R. 9883 in no respect addresses itself to these disparities and, in fact, actually perpetuates and intensifies them.

Furthermore, in the haste to pass some kind of pay legislation in this particular year, the national salary survey currently being made by the Department of Labor to ascertain the comparability of federal salaries, grade-by-grade, with those paid in private business was completely ignored--notwithstanding that the Congress itself appropriated $500,000 to finance it. This survey, which will be completed in September, 1 was intended to provide a sound and defensible basis for adjustments in the federal pay structure--and it still will. To that end, such recommendations as are indicated by the survey and other relevant evidence will be made to the Congress in January.

1 The "National Survey of Professional, Administrative, Technical, and Clerical Pay, Winter 1959-60" (49 pp., Government Printing Office, 1960) was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, December 4, 1960.

A related report of the President's Committee on Government Employment Policy on "Trends in the Employment of Negro-Americans in Upper-Level White-Collar Positions in the federal Government" (4 pp., mimeographed) was released by the White House on October 5.

2. The inequities already present in our federal pay structure would be sharply accentuated by H.R. 9883. It increases by the largest percentages those salaries which are already apparently in excess of compensation rates for similar work in private industry. On the other hand, the lowest percentage increases are accorded those who appear to be underpaid in relation to their counterparts in private business. To thus heighten the present distortion would be grossly unfair and highly discriminatory.

3. Even within itself H.R. 9883 is manifestly unjust. for a large number of employees it would increase salaries by nearly 9%, but for others performing exactly the same work the increase would be only slightly over 7 ½ %. further, employees in the postal field service would, in general, be given larger percentage increases than those provided for nearly twice as many persons who are compensated under the Classification Act and other statutory pay schedules.

4. The claim by proponents of the bill that the pay increases it would provide are justified by a rise in the cost of living is utterly without foundation in fact. Since June of 1958, when a 10% pay increase for federal employees was approved, the cost of living as measured by the Consumers' Price Index has advanced 2.1%. More importantly, since the beginning of this Administration in January of 1953, federal civilian employees have received two general pay adjustments, increasing average salaries 17½ to 20 percent in the aggregate, while during the same period the Consumers' Price Index has advanced less than 11 percent.

5. By not providing offsetting revenues for the $248 million a year it would add to Post Office Department costs, the bill stands in complete disregard of the policy which the Congress itself established in 1958 that postal revenues should approximately equal postal costs less those costs deemed attributable to the performance of public services. The consequences of this disregard, were H.R. 9883 to become law, would be to increase the postal deficit, which must be met by the American taxpayer, to $851 million a year.

6. The bill would unwarrantedly extend federal retirement and life and health insurance benefits to employees of locally-elected county stabilization and conservation committees who are not federal employees because not appointed or supervised by Government officers. The federal system should apply only to federal employees. The legitimate needs of these people for such retirement and insurance opportunities should be met and the Department of Agriculture, accordingly, has for some months now been exploring means by which the Government might appropriately act. I have asked the Secretary of Agriculture to expedite these efforts.

Looking to the future, I urge the Congress, in accordance with my recommendation of last January, promptly to enact legislation which will make permanent the 2 1/2 percent temporary salary increase accorded postal field service employees two years ago in 1958. That increase is now scheduled to expire in January of next year, so action prior to adjournment of the current session is advisable.

With regard to general pay legislation, I am convinced, as I have indicated, that it is not presently required and should not be enacted until we can at the same time intelligently modernize our pay system. Evidently, however, this view is not shared by the Congress. In an effort to resolve the difference, therefore, I would be willing at this time to approve a modest increase reasonably commensurate with the percentage rise in the Consumers' Price Index since the last general pay increase became effective. This is the only increase that could possibly be justified under present circumstances. In fairness to the American taxpayer, however, new postal revenues should be provided sufficient not only to offset the cost of any such increase to the Post Office Department, but also to eliminate the current postal deficit.

I must preface my following remarks on another aspect of this legislation by emphasizing that I have an abiding admiration and respect for the great mass of those who work in the Government service. It has been my privilege to have lived and worked with them, in Washington and throughout the world, for half a century. They deserve and rightfully expect fair and enlightened treatment, in personnel matters, on the part of the Government. At the same time, with regard to their remuneration, they desire only that the accepted principles of reward for merit, length of service and especial competence be followed. I bear all of this in mind in what I am about to say and I wish to make it clear that the remarks which follow are directed only to a small minority, and in particular their leadership, of what are in the main a fine and outstanding group of public servants.

The other aspect of this legislation to which I refer is unrelated to its merits and is to me deeply disturbing. I am informed that the enactment of H.R. 9883 was attended by intensive and unconcealed political pressure exerted flagrantly and in concert on Members of Congress by a number of postal field service employees, particularly their leadership.

I fully respect the legal right of every federal employee--indeed of all our citizens--to petition the Government. But the activity of which I have been advised so far exceeds a proper exercise of that right, and so grossly abuses it, as to. make of it a mockery.

I am further informed that, in anticipation of my disapproval of this bill, it is planned to resume these deplorable tactics, to an even greater degree.

That public servants might be so unmindful of the national good as to even entertain thoughts of forcing the Congress to bow to their will would be cause for serious alarm. To have evidence that a number of them in the postal field service, led by a few, have actually sought to do so is to say the least shocking. Were the pressure tactics surrounding the passage of this bill, and apparently further intended in the event of its veto, widely known to the American people, their indignation and outrage in all its power would be quickly felt--and rightly so.


Note: On July 1, 1960, the Congress passed the bill over the President's veto. Thereupon the Press Secretary issued a release stating that for the second time pressure and pork barrel tactics had overridden a Presidential veto. "Nevertheless," the release added, "the President will not abandon--but will continue unabated-his efforts to further responsibility in government."

As enacted, H.R. 9883 is Public Law 86-568 (74 Stat. 296).

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Veto of a Bill To Increase the Salaries of Federal Employees. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235020

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