Congress has the authority to block Obama’s proposal, but failure to act would allow the president to implement the pay raise unilaterally through an executive order, as he did with a 1 percent rate increase last December.
The National Treasury Employees Union, one of the nation’s largest labor groups representing federal workers, said agency personnel deserve a greater rate increase than Obama proposed Friday, arguing that government employees are paid less than their private-sector conterparts and that the gap is widening.
NTEU president Colleen Kelley said in a statement on Friday that fair compensation is “a must if federal agencies are to be able to compete for the talented employees they will need in coming years.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) proposed legislation this year that would boost federal-employee pay by 3.3 percent for 2015. Four House Democrats, including Jim Moran (Va.), Elijah Cummings (Md.), John Tierney (Mass.) and Matt Cartwright (Pa.) have cosponsored the bill.
Federal pay rates automatically rise each year by a certain percentage under a formula established by the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, unless Congress or the president take action to implement an alternative plan. The deadline for the White House to propose a different rate increase is Aug. 31.
The statutory pay increases for 2015 would have amounted to 1.8 percent for uniformed personnel and 1.3 percent for civilians if Obama had not proposed an alternative plan.
In January, federal workers received their first across-the-board pay raise in three years, due to a 1-percent increase that Obama implemented in late-December.
Prior to that, the president froze the rates for two years starting in 2011, and Congress continued the hold through 2013. Employees still received extra pay during that period in the form of performance awards, bonuses and promotions.
Obama’s letter said federal employees have already made “significant sacrifices” with the three-year pay freeze they endured, but he added that fiscal responsibility would require “tough choices and each of us to do our fair share.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) praised the president’s letter on Friday. She called proposed pay increase “modest” but said it would “go a long way in further recognizing the value of federal employees and help bring to a close years of pay freezes.”
The offices of Boehner and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) did not respond to requests for comments about Obama’s plan on Friday evening, when the White House released the letter to the public.