In ending its brief September session, Congress left behind much unfinished business for federal employees, reaching no final decision even on one of the issues it did address.
Just before recessing until after the elections, the Senate joined the House in approving a bill to continue funding federal agencies through March, a measure needed because regular spending bills were not enacted for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That bill, while generally increasing federal spending slightly, ordered that federal pay rates remain frozen for that time.
The result is that while no federal raise will be paid in January, one still is possible. The White House favors a 0.5 percent raise in April, while federal employee unions are pushing for such an increase to be made retroactive to the start of 2013. A continued freeze through all of 2013 also is possible.
While federal salary rates haven’t increased since a raise was paid in January 2010, pay for many individual employees has gone up due to promotions, performance-based raises, or advancement up the steps of a salary grade.
Federal pay and benefits have been debated all year between those who favor studies showing that employees are underpaid on average when compared with the private sector and those who cite studies showing the opposite.
In another wee-hours action Saturday, the Senate also joined the House in approving a bill designed to crack down on federal employee travel spending. That bill, which predates the General Services Administration conference scandal, imposes tighter oversight of the charge cards the government issues to employees for travel, as well as the cards for minor purchases such as office supplies. It carries penalties up to firing for their misuse.
However, Congress did not finalize numerous other restrictions on conferences and travel proposed in the wake of the GSA scandal.
Congress also left for its post-election session a decision on whether, and how, to avoid automatic cutting in many government accounts set to begin in January. Such cuts could result in unpaid furloughs or job cuts as agencies would need to achieve savings in some accounts approaching 10 percent. However, cutting federal jobs also has been raised as an option to prevent that “sequestration,” along with steps such as raising the required employee contribution toward retirement and extending the salary rate freeze.