Trump’s order freezes salary scales, not the salaries of individual employees.

As commonly happens when federal employee salaries are the subject, much of the reporting in the general news media on President Trump’s executive order on pay has not been fully accurate.

Trump’s order freezes salary scales, not the salaries of individual employees. Even apart from the prospect that a law will be enacted to override the order and provide for a raise, employees would remain eligible under the order for increases in their personal salaries in several ways.


The most common, for those in the GS and wage grade systems, is on advancement to the next step in their pay grade—either through regularly scheduled increases (which are paid so long as performance is acceptable) or through quality step increases, in which agencies speed up an employee’s advancement up the ladder for top performance.

OPM guidance on the order specifically states that those increases remain allowed under order, along with pay increases due to promotions. Also still allowed, it says, will be performance-based increases for the SES and for employees under similar performance-pay systems at senior levels.

In addition, employees moving from a locality with a lower pay rate to one with a higher rate would receive that higher rate—although the opposite also is true.

The guidance also points out that a freeze on Executive Level salary rates that dates to the general freeze of 2011-2013 will expire January 5 unless it is extended by a new law. That would result in raises for Cabinet and sub-Cabinet political appointees of thousands of dollars, even while the pay rates for career federal employees are frozen. OPM said it will issue further guidance on that issue.

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