Most federal employees in the Washington area will receive a raise just shy of 2.3 percent in early January, under an order President Trump issued Friday.
The raise was expected because Trump in August said if Congress did not act by the end of the year, he would allow the General Schedule’s default raise to go through. The GS is the pay system for most white-collar employees below the senior levels.
Trump, however, may stand in the way of future pay raises. Documents released recently by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) indicate that the Trump administration plans to recommend no federal employee pay raise for 2019.
Congress has followed a policy of action by inaction on federal employee raises since a three-year freeze on salary rates ended with a raise in January 2014. Starting with that raise and each year since, legislators have allowed the White House’s proposed raise amount to take effect under a complex federal pay law providing for acceptance of that figure unless Congress sets a different one.
The default raise is 1.9 percent, but in yet another complexity, the raise is divided into two components. An increase of 1.4 percent is to be paid across the board, and the funds for the remainder divided among localities, based on comparisons of federal and private-sector pay by metropolitan area.
The Washington-Baltimore area is to receive the largest of the raises, 2.29 percent. The sprawling “locality” encompasses not only the two cities but also much of Maryland and Northern Virginia, and it reaches into West Virginia and south-central Pennsylvania.
Raises are to be effective with the first full pay period of the new year, which in most cases begins Jan. 7.
Blue-collar employees are under a separate system, but they will receive a raise equal to GS employees in their areas, up to a cap of 2.13 percent, the Office of Personnel Management said in guidance issued late Friday.
Senior executives and other white-collar employees at senior levels do not receive a raise in tandem with GS employees. For them, raises are based on performance. Their salary cap is rising from $187,000 to $189,600.
A separate pay cap limiting salaries of GS employees, which affects employees near the top of that salary system in the highest-paid localities, including Washington-Baltimore, will rise from $161,900 to $164,200.
The raise determination does not affect the earlier-announced 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment coming in January for federal retirees, the same as the amount being paid to those drawing Social Security. Most of those retired under one of those programs, the Federal Employees Retirement System, do not receive inflation adjustments before age 62, however.
The presidential order also allows a raise for top-level political appointees for the first time since January 2010, according to separate OPM guidance. That’s because Congress did not renew language that had frozen the actual amount paid to them since the general salary rate freeze ended. (During those years the rates had increased on paper, allowing for increasing the pay caps for the most highly paid career employees.)
Congress returns to work Jan. 3, so it would have a few days to prevent a raise for political appointees.
If allowed to stand, that raise would boost the payable salary for Cabinet-level officers from $199,700 to $210,700, for example. The vice president’s payable salary would increase from $230,700 to $243,500. The president’s salary, $400,000, cannot be changed during an incumbent’s term.
Pay for members of Congress would remain frozen. Most are paid $174,000, although leaders make more.
Uniformed military personnel will receive 2.4 percent raises, under a recently signed defense budget bill. Trump’s order in effect rejects calls from some members of Congress and federal employee organizations to increase the federal employee raise to that higher amount in the name of “pay parity.”
While the Washington-Baltimore area will receive the largest 2018 General Schedule raise, the San Francisco locality remains the highest paid, followed by New York, Los Angeles and Washington-Baltimore.
The lowest-paid locality is a catchall “rest of the U.S.” outside the city zones that have their own pay rates. That locality also will receive the smallest raise, 1.67 percent.