Federal employees are on track for a 1.3 percent pay raise in January, following a decision by President Obama to set that figure by default if Congress continues to follow its strategy of action by inaction on the raise.
A letter sent to Congress Friday stating that intent is a routine step that is required when Congress has not set a raise for the upcoming year by the end of August. It prevents what would be a much higher raise from being paid under the complex laws governing federal pay raises should no raise number be enacted into law by the end of the year.
Congress could yet set a different figure, but the appropriations bills for 2016 so far have been silent on a raise. That continues a pattern that resulted in 1 percent raises being paid by default in January 2014 and 2015.
Several federal employee organizations, with support from some Democrats in Congress, are pushing for a 3.8 percent increase. The National Treasury Employees Union “will continue to push for a more meaningful raise for the federal workforce, one that would help the government stay competitive with private-sector employers and help employees cope with rising costs for everything from housing to tuition to food,” NTEU president Tony Reardon said in a statement.
The pay setting arrangement technically applies only to employees paid under the General Schedule system for most white-collar jobs. But under long-standing practice, the raise paid in a local area under that system also is paid to blue-collar employees, who are under a separate pay system.
Raises for GS employees are designed to have two components — one paid across the board and the other variable by locality. The past two raises have been paid entirely across the board. Obama’s intent for 2016 is to pay 1 percentage point in that way and divide the money for the remainder as locality pay.
That would result in raises slightly above 1.3 percent in some city areas and slightly below it in others. Currently there are 31 metro areas, with Alaska and Hawaii being localities in their entirety and catchall “rest of the U.S.” locality elsewhere. Thirteen more city zones are planned for 2016, along with expansion of some of the existing localities. Rules to make those changes still need to be finalized.
Raise amounts by locality reflect Labor Department data on how federal and private-sector salaries compare. Those figures are presented to an advisory body each fall and the increases are finalized in a late-year presidential order.
The figures reported last fall indicated that federal salaries lag on average by 35 percent, with the largest gaps in San Francisco, San Diego, Washington-Baltimore, Los Angeles and New York. Other pay studies using different methods and different sets of data have reached widely varying conclusions, including some indicating that federal employees are paid more on average.
Many federal employees also may be eligible for raises on advancing up the steps of their pay grades based on longevity as long as their performance is acceptable. Those raises, worth about 3 percent, are paid every one, two or three years until an employee reaches the top step of a grade.
Senior executives and certain other high-level federal employees receive raises based on their performance. The general raise would increase the pay caps applying to them, however.
The spending bills for 2016 further would continue the pattern of denying a raise to political appointees and to members of Congress.