Federal Employees Still Waiting on Pay Raise Message

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the deadline for President Trump to issue an expected message to Congress setting a federal pay raise for January by default in what seems to be the likely event that Congress does not enact a figure by the end of the year.

Congress so far has shown no interest in addressing the White House’s proposed 1.9 percent raise, repeating the pattern of the last four years. In each of those years, President Obama had issued a late-August letter setting his original proposal as the default number and in effect preventing what would be a much larger default raise from taking effect under federal pay law. The letter typically isn’t issued until close to the deadline.

Such letters could be overridden by any later spending measure specifying a different figure. However, spending bills drafted so far are silent about a raise although they effectively assume that one will be paid: they continue language dating back many years specifying that wage grade employees—who are under a separate locality-based pay system—would receive whatever raise is paid to GS employees in their area.

One twist last year was that while a 1.6 percent increase for 2017 was on the table most of the year, late in the year Obama issued an order boosting the amount to 2.1 percent after Congress approved that higher amount for military personnel as part of the defense budget. Proposals are advancing in Congress to give military personnel a 2.4 percent raise in January, similarly above the 1.9 percent that the White House recommended for them.