Fedweek

Although President Trump last Friday signed a budget measure providing for an average 1.9 percent federal employee raise retroactive to January 6, as of Friday morning he still had not issued the executive order needed to carry it out. Also still pending is OPM guidance that follows such orders on the details of the raise and the new pay tables by GS locality.

For GS employees, the pay raise is to be split as 1.4 percent across the board and the funds for 0.5 percentage points divided as locality pay. The 2018 raise that also averaged 1.9 percent—divided slightly differently, as 1.5 and 0.4 percent, respectively—yielded raises ranging from 2.29 percent in the Washington, D.C. area to 1.67 percent in the “rest of the U.S.,” the name for the catchall locality outside the areas with their own rates.

Under data from the Federal Salary Council’s meeting in November, those in the San Francisco, Washington and New York City areas stand to receive the biggest increases. Those three city areas already are at the top end of the locality pay system, with pay in the San Francisco area for example about 25 percent ahead of pay in the “rest of the U.S.,” or RUS.

Following them in order would be Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle-Tacoma, Houston and Boston. Just above the RUS locality for the smallest increases in ascending order would be Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

There are six new localities for 2019, in the Birmingham, Ala., Burlington, Vt., San Antonio, Virginia Beach, Va., Corpus Christi, and Omaha areas. The roughly 70,000 employees in those new localities stand to get an extra pay boost by moving out of the RUS locality and are to receive somewhat larger future raises, as well. That will bring the number of city areas to 50; Alaska and Hawaii also are deemed to be “localities” in their entirety and the RUS rate applies to employees in non-foreign areas overseas.

The timing of the raises remains unclear, although there appears to be no plan to make a special distribution apart from the regular pay cycle such as the one that was made to some 800,000 employees for back pay related to the partial shutdown. The current pay period ends March 2, with pay distributions to be made about a week afterward. In many cases those payouts could reflect the retroactive increase but it could take one or more additional cycles to complete the process. The payroll providers that agencies use further still are working through problems related to the shutdown back pay.

After any raise, OPM puts out guidance on the impact which typically varies little from one year to the next. As in past years, under the law Trump signed wage grade employees are to receive the same raises paid to GS employees locally even though a separate locality pay system applies to them.

Employees under high-level pay systems such as the SES do not get locality pay since they are in pay-for-performance systems, but the pay cap applying to them—in most cases, currently $189,600—would increase by the 1.9 percent average. The pay cap applying to GS employees in the upper steps of GS-15 in some localities, $164,200, also would increase by that percentage.

Also, for the first time since 2010, political appointees under the executive schedule are to receive a raise, of 1.9 percent. Over that time the amounts actually paid to them have stayed the same even while the underlying rates have increased for purposes of increasing the pay caps. Pay for members of Congress is to remain frozen, however.