A bill that extends the federal employee salary rate freeze at least until April is one of the last major pieces of legislation scheduled for action in Congress until after the elections.
The Senate is scheduled to begin voting as soon as Wednesday on the House-passed “continuing resolution” that provides funds to keep the government operating through March at about current levels. It is needed because none of the regular appropriations bills have been enacted for the government budget year that starts Oct. 1.
The measure provides for no general federal salary increase during its duration but leaves the door open for one afterward. President Obama has proposed a 0.5 percent across the board raise at that time. Federal employee organizations are pushing to make such an increase retroactive to the start of 2013, but the House voted several times to continue the freeze for the entire year.
Despite the freeze that has kept salary rates at the same level since they last were increased in January 2010, many individual employees have remained eligible for raises on promotion, for good performance or on successfully completing waiting periods to advance up the steps of their pay grades.
The House originally had planned to take off next week and then return for one more week, but leaders announced last Friday their intention to recess after this week until Nov. 13. The Senate may also recess after this week.
Neither the House nor the Senate put other employee-related bills on their announced agendas, but as a congressional recess approaches, bills sometimes are approved on short notice. For example, just before the August recess, Congress acted quickly to delay a requirement that agencies post online the publicly available financial disclosure forms filed by some 28,000 senior career employees, political appointees and high-ranking military officers.
That requirement originally was to take effect at the end of August under the Stock Act enacted earlier this year, but Congress delayed it through September.
Last week, a federal judge blocked the provision from taking effect through October to give Congress more time to consider arguments that online access to those forms presents a risk both to the employees and to the government. With Congress out of session after this week — or only the Senate working, at most — attention would turn back to the court if another delay is not enacted this week.
Also apparently to be left for the post-election session are proposals to avoid automatic cutting called sequestration set to begin in January. Administration officials warned last week that such cuts could have “devastating” impacts on a wide range of government operations and could spill over to the federal workforce, although they made no projections on the potential effect on employees.
Ideas that have been raised to prevent the sequester include extending the salary rate freeze still longer, cutting the workforce by 10 percent by attrition, and requiring employees to contribute more toward their retirement benefits.