It’s unusual for the January federal pay raise to be undetermined this late in the year but resolution could lie just around the corner.

Congress has been silent regarding a raise all year, paving the way for a raise to be paid by default in January as has been done for several years running. Congress could yet take a position in a spending bill to be passed before the end of the year. A temporary measure expires December 8, meaning that some budgetary action must be taken to prevent a partial government shutdown; that action could come as another temporary extension or full-year agency funding. Any such measure could address a raise, but Congress has shown no interest to date in doing so.


Under a late-August letter to Congress, President Trump stated that if Congress does not take action on a raise, he will provide the 1.9 percent increase he initially recommended, with 1.4 percent to be paid across the board and the funds for the remainder split as variable locality pay among the GS localities. Assuming another past practice is followed, wage grade employees would receive the same increases paid there, even though a separate locality-based system covers them.

In that event the 1.9 percent figure would serve as an average, and some localities would receive several tenths of a percentage point less and others several tenths more. The catchall “rest of the U.S.” locality outside certain metropolitan zones would receive the least, while city areas including the San Francisco and Washington-Baltimore zones traditionally receive the most.

Exact figures are not known, however. They would be determined by an annual report on local pay gaps from the Federal Salary Council, which consists of federal employee unions and outside compensation experts, based on data the Labor Department presents to the council at its annual meeting. However, that council still hasn’t held its meeting, which typically has occurred by now – in more than a decade, the meeting has been held later than this only once – and it has not even scheduled one as yet.

That council also makes recommendations to a higher-level body on other pay-related issues including potential changes in the boundaries to localities and the creation of new ones. Both types of changes have been under consideration in recent years but at this point it’s unlikely any could occur earlier than 2019.

Presidents typically issue an annual message to Congress by the end of November formalizing their earlier stated intentions regarding the raise–and preventing what would be much larger locality-based raises from taking effect under federal pay law. That message in turn typically is followed by a formal executive order late in the year that includes specific pay tables for the localities as well as for pay schedules apart from the GS.