Fedweek

With time running out on this Congress, decisions still haven’t been made as of today (Wednesday) on a 2019 federal pay raise, preventing a partial government shutdown late next week, or granting all or part of the day off for federal employees on December 24.

Decisions on the first two are related and are in the hands of a Congress facing a switch in control of the House from Republican to Democratic in January. Only five of the regular 12 annual appropriations bills have been enacted—although the bills that have been enacted cover departments that employ the majority of federal workers—and there still is no indication how the situation will be resolved. Among the bills awaiting action is the general government bill that will determine whether salaries will be frozen or whether a 1.9 percent average raise will be paid.

Facing a deadline—already extended twice—of December 21 to fund other agencies for the fiscal year that is now more than two months old, Congress has not yet indicated whether it will attempt to pass all of the bills collectively, or whether at least some would be brought up for voting individually. Failure to enact at least another stopgap funding bill before the deadline would lead to partial shutdowns of agencies without year-long funding already in place, just ahead of the holidays.

The main difficulty continues to be border and immigration policy provisions and their related spending included in one of the pending appropriations bills, covering DHS. Negotiations over spending for a Southern border wall have made little progress, with a White House session yesterday ending with the most adamant of President Trump’s many threats of a veto if funding for a southern border wall isn’t increased substantially.

Currently, it’s uncertain when this Congress will finish; an earlier plan to end this week already has slipped and while legislators resist working through the holidays, Senate leaders have suggested that that chamber at least might do so, if only to approve nominations that otherwise would expire when the current Congress ends. In any case, the new Congress convenes January 3.

The other issue, additional time off, is at President Trump’s discretion. There is precedent from the past two administrations for giving federal employees the day off on the 24th when it falls on a Monday to create a four-day weekend but past practices are not binding on a current incumbent.

A grant of a day off can be made up to a few days before the holiday, although it typically comes earlier to give OPM time to issue guidance on issues including policies on employees who must remain on the job in any event and those who had scheduled annual leave or other paid time off. The former typically get holiday pay equal to their regular salary while the latter have the scheduled leave canceled without charge to their leave balance.