President Obama on Friday proposed raising federal civilian and military pay by 1 percent across the board next year, signaling that he wants to give the workers a salary bump but prevent the rates from automatically rising higher under the law.
In a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Vice President Biden, Obama said the greater increase set to take effect without his plan would be “inappropriate.” He added that the government must “maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course” as the country’s economic recovery continues.
Congress has the authority to block Obama’s proposal, but failure to act on the part of lawmakers would allow the president to implement the pay raise unilaterally through an executive order, as he did with a 1 percent rate increase in December.
The National Treasury Employees Union, one of the nation’s largest labor groups representing federal workers, said agency personnel deserve a greater rate increase than what Obama proposed Friday, arguing that government employees are paid less than their private-sector counterparts and that the gap is widening.
NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement Friday that fair compensation is “a must if federal agencies are to be able to compete for the talented employees they will need in coming years.”
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) proposed legislation this year that would boost federal employee pay by 3.3 percent for 2015. Four House Democrats, including James P. Moran (Va.), Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), John F. Tierney (Mass.) and Matthew Cartwright (Pa.), have co-sponsored the bill.
Federal pay rates automatically rise each year by a certain percentage under a complex formula established by the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, unless Congress or the president take action to implement an alternative plan. The statutory deadline for the White House to propose a different rate increase is Aug. 31.
The statutory pay increases for 2015 would have amounted to 1.8 percent for uniformed personnel and 1.3 percent for civilians if Obama had not proposed an alternative plan.
In January, federal workers received their first across-the-board pay raise in three years because of the 1 percent increase that Obama implemented in late December.
Before that, the president froze the rates for two years starting in 2011, and Congress continued the hold through 2013. Employees still received extra pay during that period in the form of performance awards, bonuses and promotions.
Obama’s letter said federal employees have already made “significant sacrifices” with the three-year pay freeze they endured, but he added that fiscal responsibility would require “tough choices and each of us to do our fair share.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) praised the president’s letter Friday. She called the proposed pay increase “modest” but said it would “go a long way in further recognizing the value of federal employees and help bring to a close years of pay freezes.”
The offices of Boehner and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) did not respond to requests for comments about Obama’s plan Friday evening, when the White House released the letter to the public.