Federal employees would receive a raise averaging 1.9 percent in January 2019 under a bill the Senate passed Wednesday, matching what employees received at the start of this year and rejecting the White House’s call for a freeze.
The Senate passed a measure by 92 to 6, wrapping together several of the regular spending bills for the government budget year that starts in October, including the financial services-general government bill that typically carries the decision on a federal employee raise for the coming year.
“This pay raise is important to keep federal pay from falling even farther behind that of the private sector. Now more than ever, competitive federal salaries are sorely needed to confront hiring needs as 40 percent of the current workforce is eligible to retire in the next three years,” the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said in a statement.
The House earlier passed its own version that made no mention of a federal raise. Under the complex law governing federal employee raises, that in effect supported President Trump’s recommendation for a freeze because if Congress takes no position, the White House recommendation takes effect automatically.
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, each year allowing raises in the 1 to 2 percent range.
With the House already in recess through Labor Day, the differences between the two won’t be resolved at least until September.
As the Senate was preparing to vote, the Office of Management and Budget had issued a policy statement saying the administration was “concerned” about the Senate language providing a raise, although it didn’t threaten a veto.
“Across-the-board pay increases have long-term fixed costs, yet fail to address existing pay disparities, or target mission critical recruitment and retention goals,” it said. It asked instead for a $1 billion fund to “support performance-based pay that is strategically aligned toward recruiting, retaining, and retraining high performers and those in mission-critical areas.”
The White House in February had first proposed such a fund as a swap for its proposal to freeze salaries and to add a year to the waiting periods for “within-grade” raises, which are worth about 3 percent of salary and are paid in regular intervals until an employee reaches the top level of a pay grade. Neither version of the spending bill would impose such a delay.
Under the Senate language, all employees under the General Schedule — the pay scale covering most white-collar employees below the executive level — would receive a raise of 1.4 percent and the remaining money would be allotted in differing amounts by locality.
Locality pay raises are determined by comparisons of federal and private sector pay in 44 city zones; a standard increase applies elsewhere. The Washington-Baltimore locality is one where the “pay gap” has been determined to be the largest and employees working in that zone would stand to receive one of the larger raises. The 1.9 percent boost paid early this year resulted in a raise of just under 2.3 percent in that zone, which encompasses much of Maryland and Northern Virginia and reaches into eastern West Virginia and south-central Pennsylvania.
The raise figure in the appropriations bill directly applies only to the General Schedule, but blue-collar employees typically receive equivalent raises even though they are under a separate locality pay system. Federal senior executives and others at senior levels do not receive boosts; they receive raises based on their performance evaluations.
Uniformed military personnel are in line for a 2.6 percent raise in January.