President Trump did not issue a new message before the August 31 deadline regarding a federal pay raise to be paid by default in January should no figure be enacted into law by then, leaving the default figure at the 1 percent he set earlier.

Under federal pay law, if Congress has not enacted a raise figure by that date the president sends a letter to Capitol Hill stating his intent to set a raise by default should that situation continue through year’s end. The figure technically is called the “alternative” raise—alternative to the much larger raise that would have to be paid if that law were to be followed.


However, Trump this year—in a break with precedent—issued that message in February along with the administration’s budget proposal, which called for a 1 percent raise to be paid across the board.

“Under current law, locality pay increases averaging 20.67 percent, costing $21 billion in the first year alone, would go into effect in January 2021, in addition to a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase for the base general schedule. We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course; federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” he said in that letter.

Because that letter came before the deadline—almost seven months before—it met the law’s requirement. However, there had been speculation that he might issue another message before the deadline overriding that one, possibly advocating a pay freeze by citing general economic conditions, or advocating a higher raise by citing the exceptional strain put on the federal workforce by the pandemic.

In his letter last August, Trump had surprisingly dropped his budgetary proposal for a pay freeze and endorsed an average 2.6 percent raise for 2020, with some variation by locality. A later budget law increased that figure to 3.1 percent.

The focus on the 2021 raise now returns to the regular budget process. The House has passed an appropriations bill that by remaining silent on the raise effectively endorses the 1 percent default figure. The Senate has not acted on a counterpart bill and the issue is unlikely to be settled until a post-election session of Congress finalizes the budget for the fiscal year that starts October 1. During an upcoming several week session, the only likely action on the budget will be to temporarily extend current spending levels with some exceptions.

Federal employee organizations and some Democrats in Congress continue to advocate for a 3 percent raise in the name of pay parity with uniformed military personnel, who are in line to get a raise of that amount in January.

Social Security Withholding Change Coming for Most Federal Employees

Pandemic Won’t Delay Open Season but Will Affect Messaging, OPM Says

New Policy May Make Hiring More Subjective, Says CRS

FERS Retirement Guide 2022