Congress is fast approaching the end of its working year having taken no position on a federal employee raise for January, a sequence that has played out repeatedly in recent years resulting in raises paid by default.
If a raise figure is to be set legislatively, the standard bill for doing so is the general government appropriations. But neither version of that bill this year—the House passed its as part of a larger package while the Senate has produced a bill but hasn’t voted even at the committee level—sets a raise figure. They do, however, specify that any raise paid would not go to political appointees (nor to members of Congress) and that blue-collar employees would receive the same raise as GS employees in their areas.
The raise has been shaping up all year as 1.9 percent on average. That amount was in the administration’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal in the spring, and President Trump followed that with an August order stating that a default raise would be divided, 1.4 percentage points paid across the board and funds for the rest split among GS localities in varying amounts.
There has been no indication to the contrary since then, but neither has there been the usual annual step of a meeting by the Federal Salary Council—a group of union officials and pay experts—to recommend specific amounts by localities, based on Labor Department data. Barring last-minute action, prior data on local pay gaps likely will be used.
Several federal employee organizations, and a bipartisan group of a dozen House members, have urged the White House to sweeten the raise to 2.4 percent in the name of “pay parity” with uniformed military personnel, who are to receive a raise of that amount in January. President Obama did much the same in a similar situation last year. However, while there is precedent for pay parity, there is also precedent against it.
A raise would be finalized by an executive order after Congress finishes work for the year—meaning the order likely won’t come out until very late in the month—and raises would be paid effective with the first full pay period of the month. In most cases that will start January 7, although there are variations among the payroll providers that agencies use.