Bills (HR-4775 and S-2295) newly offered in Congress that would grant a 3 percent federal employee pay raise in January 2019 amount to an early staking of a position on the issue by federal employee organizations, which endorse the bills, and their Democratic allies in Congress who introduced them.

Similar bills have been offered in recent years seeking raises above the White House’s recommended amount, which for January 2019 is expected to be zero. Last year for example a 3.2 percent increase was sought for this January rather than the average 1.9 percent the White House recommended. In 2016, a 5.3 percent increase was sought for 2017.

However, such bills have never advanced. In both years, Congress remained silent on a raise and the recommended amount was paid by default—an average 2.1 percent in January 2017 and an average 1.9 percent this month, both varying by locality.

2019 pay raise faces headwind

Meanwhile, wider action on pay is possible in the coming year, with budget documents indicating the White House will seek to freeze federal pay rates in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, and and the latest annual locality pay report hints at another attempt at establishing performance pay features.

The report from the President’s Pay Agent, the Secretary of Labor and the Directors of OMB and OPM and with input from the Federal Salary Council, argues that federal employee pay is overly generous because comparisons with non-federal pay, which are used to set rates, fail to account for the value of employee benefits.