President Obama’s budget proposal contains the previously announced plan for a 1.6 percent January 2017 raise for federal employees, and it repeats some recommendations on benefits that have not passed Congress and drops some others.
A budget document says that the 1.6 percent figure would represent the eighth straight year of federal raises falling below an indicator of private-sector wage growth called the employment-cost index. The result will be “a relative decrease in civilian pay compared to the private sector of about 9 percent since 2009,” it says.
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Under federal pay law, raises are supposed to be roughly linked to that measure to keep federal workers apace with other workers, while additional pay varying by locality is to be added to close pay gaps as measured by an advisory group. That system never has operated as intended, however, because of the potential cost.
The document does not address whether the raise would be paid entirely across the board or whether part or all of it would be divided up as locality pay. Taking the latter approach would result in raises ranging from slightly below to slightly above 1.6 percent, varying by city area.
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Following a three-year freeze on salary rates, 1 percent raises were issued in 2014 and 2015, while an average of a 1.3 percent raise was paid in 2016. Congress allowed those raises to take effect by default by remaining silent on the White House’s recommendations.
Federal employee unions and other organizations have been calling for a 2017 raise substantially higher than 1.6 percent.
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The budget plan meanwhile repeats a previous call to create six weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees on the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. Currently, they are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave and may substitute paid vacation or sick leave time under certain circumstances.
The proposal also would make explicit the right of new parents to use sick leave to care for a new child.
The budget says those changes would “strengthen Federal recruitment and retention, and make significant progress in bringing Federal parental leave policies in line with benefit programs already provided by many companies.”
“This is a common-sense and compassionate benefit that is long overdue for our nation’s civil servants and their loved ones. Additionally, this is a vital recruitment tool that allows for the federal government to attract the brightest and best,” said Federal Managers Association President Patricia Niehaus.
Legislation to authorize paid parental leave has not advanced in Congress.
The budget also repeats several prior proposals regarding the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program that have not advanced, including centralizing the purchase of prescription drugs, allowing new plan designs into the program and allowing plans to charge differing premiums “based on wellness program participation and tobacco use.”
The budget meanwhile drops another proposal that had made no progress: to allow coverage of unmarried domestic partners. Office of Personnel Management officials said that issue is now moot because of the 2015 Supreme Court decision requiring all states to perform and recognize same-sex marriages.
A new proposal would provide health benefits coverage to infants born to dependent daughters of FEHBP participants for 30 days.
For OPM’s operations, the budget includes $37 million to continue upgrading its computer systems, following cyber thefts of personal information on some 22 million current and former federal employees and others. It also will begin shifting control of background investigation data to the Defense Department while creating a new entity, within OPM but operating separately in some ways, to conduct those investigations.
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OPM also plans to add 20 to 25 employees to the customer service staff in its branch that processes retirement applications from federal workers, an increase of about a tenth.
Meanwhile, the budget drops a prior proposal to regarding workers’ compensation payments; that would have switched beneficiaries to retirement benefits when they reach retirement age. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, one of a number of groups that had called on the White House to drop that proposal, said it is “grateful that the President reconsidered his position” in light of a Government Accountability Office report showing that the compensation payments are no more costly to the government than retirement payments.