Under the complex federal pay law, if Congress does not legislate a figure by the end of the year, a White House recommendation takes effect by default. President Obama in his early-year budget proposal advocated 1.6 percent, although a second message to Congress would be needed by the end of August to confirm that figure as the default raise.
The same sequence played out in the prior three years, as default raises of 1, 1 and 1.3 percent were paid over 2014-2016. In each case, Obama issued an August message that repeated his original proposal.
Also, still to be decided is whether the increase would be paid entirely across the board or whether part of it would be broken out as “locality pay.” The latter approach would result in raises varying among metro areas from just above to just below 1.6 percent.
The raise formula technically applies only to white-collar employees paid under the General Schedule salary system, but the spending bills would continue a long-standing practice of paying equal raises to blue-collar employees even though they are under a separate pay system.
A 1.6 percent raise would be the largest for federal employees since 2010 — pay rates were frozen in 2011-2013 — but still well below the 5.3 percent sought by several federal employee unions and some members of Congress.
“I went to bat to protect this modest pay increase for our nation’s federal employees,” Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. “It will go a long way in recognizing the value of federal employees and builds on the progress made in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to allow modest adjustments in pay.”
In addition to annual pay raises, federal employee salaries can increase in several other ways, including for performance and on advancing up the steps of a pay ladder.
Both spending bills specify that political appointees would not receive a raise. However, career employees at senior levels would be eligible; many of them are under separate salary systems where raises are based on performance evaluations.
Members of Congress would not receive a raise, under a separate spending bill.