Two months after the White House proposed creating a $1 billion fund to reward top-performing federal employees, the idea still has not been further defined by the administration nor has it advanced in Congress.
The administration’s budget plan presented the proposal as a tradeoff for not granting a general federal employee pay raise in 2019. Both are elements of its desire to increase the role of performance—and decrease the role of longevity—in employee compensation (another is to lengthen by one year the waiting periods for within-grade raises).
However, while federal employee organizations have come to view the salary rate freeze as almost inevitable, prospects for the fund are much less positive.
The budget proposal had assumed that the money would come from funds appropriated this year, but the budget measure enacted afterward that carried agency funding through September makes no provision for such a fund. The budget process for fiscal 2019 is starting on Capitol Hill but Congress may be reluctant to appropriate money until its use has been better defined.
For example, it’s unclear what performance rating an employee would need to receive a payout, and how payouts would differ by level.
Another complication is that while agencies most commonly use a five-level rating system, that is not universal. Most prominently, the largest department, DoD, is phasing in a three-level system for the large majority of its civilian employees in which the top level is reserved for the most truly outstanding.
The administration has not addressed those issues, nor has Congress scheduled hearings or ordered studies into them.