Fedweek

The administration’s proposal to lengthen the waiting period between GS within-grade raises would result in adding a year to the waiting period to each, a new document issued by OPM explains.

Those raises, which are worth about 3 percent of salary, currently are paid—except to employees performing unacceptably—after one year to advance to the second, third and fourth steps of a GS grade, after two years to advance to the fifth, sixth and sevenths steps, and after three years to advance to the eighth through tenth steps. The effect would be to lengthen the time it would take to advance from the first step of a grade to the top–where such raises end–from 18 years to 27.

Not all federal employees start in a new position at step 1 of a grade, however, and as they advance in their careers commonly are promoted to higher grades without progressing all the way to the top of a grade. In addition, many federal employees are under pay systems that do not have a grade and step structure at all.

The recently issued White House budget plan for fiscal 2019 had called for lengthening the within-grade raise waiting period but did not address by how long. It also repeated the argument—commonly made by some Republicans on Capitol Hill—that although the raises have a performance element, they in effect reward only longevity since they are paid in 99.7 percent of the cases. The OPM document reflects that view, calling the within-grade increases “time-based pay progression.”

“Since almost all employees are certified as meeting the required minimum level of performance, standard within-grade increases are virtually automatic,” OPM said in a document to justify its own budget proposal that includes a section on planned legislative changes.

More on current rules for GS Within-grade increases at ask.fedweek.com

The OPM document didn’t address the wage grade pay system, which also has a step and within-grade structure, although different. Nor did it elaborate on the budget’s proposal to tie pay more closely to performance in other ways, starting with paying no general federal employee raise in January 2019 and creating a $1 billion central fund to reward good performers government-wide.

OPM earlier had said it would consult with Congress and stakeholders including federal employee organizations before presenting a formal legislative proposal, although it did not set a time frame. The new document repeats that promise and adds that it expects the consultative process to be completed by the end of the current fiscal year, September 30.

It adds that during the following fiscal year OPM plans to “develop options for reforming federal employee compensation” including “any legislative proposals needed.”