Fedweek

Proposal stakes out a position well in advance of when the debate over a raise for next January has even begun

Although the budget for the current fiscal year remains unsettled, early maneuvering on the fiscal 2020 budget has started, with introduction of a bill by some Democrats calling for a 3.6 percent January 2020 federal raise.

The proposal stakes out a position well in advance of when the debate over a raise for next January has even begun. It came just ahead of what appears to be the final word from Congress over a raise for 2019, the inclusion of a 1.9 percent average increase in a bill to head off a potential second partial government shutdown.

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The delay in settling the fiscal 2019 budget has pushed off the start of the budget cycle for next fiscal year by a month. That now is projected to start March 12 with the White House’s budget proposal, which is followed by an extended period of hearings and drafting of legislation in Congress which is supposed to be complete by October 1 but rarely is.

So far the administration has said little regarding the upcoming budget as it would affect federal employees beyond a repeat of its proposals of the two prior years to make some parental leave time paid time—a plan that would apply to federal workers as well as private sector employees. Congress never actively took up that issue with Republicans controlling both chambers in 2017 and 2018; chances of attention at least in the House appear to be better now that it is under Democratic control.

It’s generally expected that the White House will once again repeat proposals in its two prior budgets to require employees to pay more toward retirement benefits and to degrade the value of those benefits in various ways. Some of those, such as switching to a high-5 base for calculating benefits, would apply only to those retiring after some future date; others, such as reducing the value of COLAs, would apply to both current and future retirees.

However, chances of such proposals being enacted with a Democratic House are even slimmer than they were the last two years, when they did advance there but stalled when they reached the Senate. Instead, House Democratic leaders have said they will push proposals seeking to sweeten benefits, for example by bringing COLA policies under FERS up to the level of those under CSRS and by rolling back the already-enacted higher retirement contributions required of FERS employees hired in 2013 and after.