Among the many complications related to the partial government shutdown and President Trump’s executive order freezing federal salary rates is the matter of pay for senior political appointees in the Executive Schedule. The prospect of a raise for them has become a political controversy at a time President Trump has ordered a salary rate freeze for career federal employees, many of whom further are in unpaid status due to the partial government shutdown.

In its initial guidance on the order, OPM had noted that because of the lapse of the prior general government appropriations bill, a long-standing restriction in that measure on the actual pay received by Executive Schedule officials also lapsed. That language had kept their actual pay frozen since a general salary rate freeze over 2011-2013.

However, in the meantime, the underlying rates had increased on paper, in turn raising the caps applying at senior career levels to both regular salary and total compensation (salary plus bonuses). For example, the cap on SES salaries rose over those years to $189,600 while the actual pay for those in Executive Level II, the rate to which that cap is tied, remained fixed at $179,700.

OPM’s initial guidance on Trump’s order noted that with the expiration of the freeze on actual Executive Schedule pay, those officials were due for a pay boost to catch them up with the paper raises since 2013, effective January 6, the start of the first pay period of this year. However, following a political outcry, OPM amended that guidance to tell agencies to hold off paying those increases “until appropriations legislation is enacted that would clarify the status of the freeze.”

The House approved last week, and is poised to approve again this week, language to reinstate the Executive Schedule freeze and keep the actual payable rates for political appointees at the levels they had been for years. That would not impact the pay caps for career employees in senior levels since they are determined by the on-paper rates, which further could yet increase if a raise for this year becomes law.