Fedweek

The Federal Salary Council, which oversees the GS locality pay system, will convene virtually on October 20 in an annual meeting that produces the official—although still controversial—measure of how federal and non-federal salaries compare on average nationwide and by locality.

Figures from last year’s meeting, as always based on Labor Department data, showed “pay gap” of 26.7 percent, continuing a trend in which the number decreased from 35.2 over the prior five years.

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Under a 1990 law locality pay sufficient to close the varying gaps by metro areas was supposed to have been paid by now. That hasn’t happened for reasons including the cost and disagreements over the methods used to compare salaries.

Typically the raise is negotiated between Congress and the White House and a portion of it is carved out as locality pay, causing raises to vary somewhat among city areas with their own rates versus the catchall “rest of U.S.” locality everywhere else (except Alaska and Hawaii, which are separate localities in their entirety).

Even though those differences are slight year to year, over time they have built up so that GS rates in the highest-paid locality, San Francisco, is about 18 percent above that in the RUS locality.

Also under that law, if no raise figure is enacted by the end of a calendar year, the “default” raise set by the President will take effect. That has happened in several recent years and could again this year—the House has passed a spending bill that, by remaining silent, effectively endorses the 1 percent default raise favored by President Trump while the Senate has taken no action on a counterpart bill.

The raise issue likely won’t be settled until a post-election session of Congress.

The council—consisting of several members named by the White House plus representatives from unions—also oversees technical issues such whether to create new localities or to change the boundaries of existing ones. It reports to a higher level body called the President’s Pay Agent, consisting of the heads of OPM, OMB and Labor.

Earlier this year that body accepted the council’s recommendation to create a new locality in the Des Moines, Iowa, area and to add Imperial County, Calif., to the Los Angeles area. Proposed rules to do so have not been finalized, however.

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During the Trump administration divisions on the salary council have deepened over suggestions by the administration representatives to change the methodology used—such as a “total compensation” measure that would take into account not only salaries but also the value of benefits. However, the union members—who make up a majority—have maintained the status quo, arguing that including the value of benefits would provide a justification for reducing their value.

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