Government pay freeze expands to more civil servants

Washington Post's Lisa Rein talks to federal workers about President Obama's proposal to stop pay increases for two million federal employees.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2010; 6:43 PM

The two-year pay freeze that is now law for federal employees on the pay scale known as the General Schedule will also apply to hundreds of thousands of civil servants whose wages are set under a separate salary system, according to an executive order signed last week by President Obama.

Employees covered by the so-called Administratively Determined pay scale - not legislated by Congress but set by federal agencies - make up about 30 percent of the workforce of 2 million. They include public health doctors and nurses, medical personnel in the Veterans Affairs system, administrative law judges and attorneys, auditors and other staff at financial agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. The system gives hiring staff more discretion than usual to determine salaries for those relatively high-paying positions to compete with the private sector.

The president's directive also imposes the pay freeze on members of the Senior Executive Service, a small cadre of managers whose salaries exceed the highest level on the GS scale. Raises for these executives generally are performance-based, unlike those for employees in the GS system.

The freeze's expansion to the majority of government workers except active-duty military personnel was widely expected. The big question now is whether the small group of employees whose wages are negotiated through collective bargaining agreements, chief among them air traffic controllers, will be affected.

The White House plans to address the question within the next week, according to administration officials who are reviewing the potential legal ramifications of blocking raises set through union contracts. The contract issue prevented the White House from enforcing the freeze for thousands of workers employed by government contractors, because they are hired by private companies, not the government. One exception is a group of contractors at the Energy Department who manage day-to-day operations at some national laboratories and other sites. They will not be exempted.

The government's public employee unions say that the wage agreements cannot be broken.

The salary freeze does not affect step increases within GS levels and bonuses, although Personnel Chief John Berry has said the pool for bonuses will shrink in 2011. It is not clear by how much.

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