Federal Manager's Daily Report

President Trump has reaffirmed his intent for federal employees to receive an average 1.9 percent pay raise in January, sending a message to Congress setting that amount by default in what seems to be the likely event that Congress does not enact a figure.

The number repeats the White House’s budgetary proposal of earlier this year and further specifies an intent to divide the raise as 1.4 percent across the board and 0.5 percent for locality pay.

The “alternative” raise prevents what would be a much larger raise from taking effect by default under federal pay law, should Congress not enact a specific pay raise figure by year’s end. Trump’s message to Congress said that raise would average above 26 percent, would cost $26 billion and would be “inappropriate.”

“A pay increase of this magnitude is not warranted, and federal agency budgets could not accommodate such an increase while still maintaining support for key federal priorities such as those that advance the safety and security of the American people,” the letter said, in language closely mirroring statements from prior administrations in the same situation. “Pay adjustments for civilian federal employees have been lower in recent years than increases that would have taken effect under the statutory formula for adjustments to the base general schedule. However, we must maintain efforts to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”

The 1.9 percent amount “will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified federal workforce,” it added in language also reflecting similar past messages.

The amount could be overridden by enactment of an appropriations bill specifying a different figure, but Congress so far has shown no interest in addressing the raise—continuing its practice of the prior four years that have resulted in the President’s default raise taking effect each time.

Precise amounts by locality are to be set late in the year after the Federal Salary Council produces official estimates of local “pay gaps” with similar private sector jobs, based on Labor Department data. The result will be that raises will vary from just below to just above 1.9 percent.

The raise technically applies only to GS employees but for many years wage grade employees—who are under a separate locality-based pay system—have received the same amount paid to GS employees in their area; that practice would continue under a spending bill for 2018 pending in Congress. A GS raise lifts the pay caps applying to those in the SES and several other high-level pay systems in which raises are based on performance ratings.