The 1.9 percent federal employee pay raise in a bill ready for final voting in Congress would be paid retroactively to Jan. 6 and would be split so that employees in the Washington-Baltimore area would stand to receive more than that figure.
Those provisions bring to an end a lengthy back-and-forth debate over a raise for about 2.1 million federal employees. The 1.9 percent figure, first endorsed by the Senate last summer, would override the salary rate freeze that President Trump ordered in late December when Congress had not acted, although it falls below the 2.6 percent boost the House recently endorsed.
The measure wraps together the unfinished spending bills for federal agencies that recently underwent the record-setting partial government shutdown. The bill would prevent another shutdown from happening at midnight Friday when the stopgap measure that ended the shutdown will expire. The House has scheduled a vote for Thursday, to be followed by the Senate.
Among the spending bills within the larger measure is the one covering general government matters. It specifies a raise for federal employees in the General Schedule — the pay system covering most white-collar workers below senior levels — to be paid “as of the first day of the first applicable pay period” of 2019, which was Jan. 6.
The raise is further to be divided: 1.4 percent across the board and the remainder paid in amounts varying by city area, based on pay comparisons reported last fall by an advisory council.
The Washington-Baltimore metro zone is among the areas where federal pay is deemed to be the furthest behind, meaning it would receive one of the larger raises. In January 2018, for example, a 1.9 percent average raise that was split roughly the same way resulted in a raise of just under 2.3 percent in that region. That zone includes not only those cities and their immediate suburbs but also much of the rest of Maryland and Northern Virginia and parts of eastern West Virginia and south-central Pennsylvania.
The San Francisco and New York areas also stand to receive raises of about that size. The smallest raise, potentially around 1.7 percent, would be paid in areas outside one of the designated city zones. Final figures would be set by an executive order following enactment.
Federal employee raises have been paid retroactively in similar situations in the past, although it took weeks for federal payroll systems to catch up. Those systems already are burdened by the complications of distributing back pay to some 800,000 federal employees who went unpaid during the recent shutdown.
While the General Schedule raise applies only to employees under that pay system, the bill would extend similar increases to blue-collar employees. The raise also would increase the pay caps applying to employees at the highest levels of the General Schedule in some city areas, as well as the pay caps for senior executives and other career employees at senior levels, who receive raises on a performance-pay formula.
The bill further specifies that the salaries received by the vice president and senior political appointees would increase by 1.9 percent. The amounts they receive have been frozen since 2010 even though the rates under their pay system — called the Executive Schedule — have increased on paper each year since a general federal salary rate freeze over 2011-2013 ended. The paper increases were enacted so that the pay caps for career employees, which are tied to the Executive Schedule, could continue to increase even while the appointees had their actual pay frozen.
The paper salary rate for a Cabinet secretary is now $210,700, while their actual pay has remained $199,700; for the vice president, the difference is $243,500 vs. $230,700. For sub-Cabinet political positions the differences are less.
The freeze on actual pay for the vice president and senior political appointees had expired in January, putting them in line for large immediate catch-up raises. However, the Office of Personnel Management ordered the freeze to remain in place pending further action by Congress.
An increase of 1.9 percent in the actual payable rate would result in a raise of about $3,800 for a Cabinet secretary; rates in that pay system are rounded.