Fedweek

Rates have been frozen at 2018 levels under an executive order President Trump issued just before the turn of the year, but that order can even now be overridden by any legislation containing a raise that he signs.

The House on Wednesday passed a newly introduced bill (HR-790) by Democratic leaders on civil service issues to pay a general federal employee raise of 2.6 percent retroactive to the start of the first full pay period of the year, January 6.

The 259-161 vote—with all 230 Democrats who voted being in favor, joined by 29 Republicans—represents a revival of the raise issue which has been dormant since December as attention focused on the partial government shutdown, with an increase from the 1.9 percent figure that has long been considered as the alternative to a salary rate freeze.

Rates have been frozen at 2018 levels under an executive order President Trump issued just before the turn of the year, but that order can even now be overridden by any legislation containing a raise that he signs.

The Senate last year approved an average 1.9 percent raise but the House, then under Republican control, earlier had consented to a freeze; the two chambers then held a conference which never reached a resolution. In recent weeks, the House, now under Democratic control, voted in favor of a 1.9 percent raise several times while passing legislation designed to end the shutdown. Those bills stalled in the Senate however.

The Senate in turn again endorsed a 1.9 percent raise last week when voting on a measure to end the shutdown; the bill achieved a majority but not the 60 votes needed to pass out of the Senate. The raise was not the hangup, however; the bill fell short because of the dispute over border wall construction, the issue underlying the partial shutdown.

While the administration has repeatedly opposed paying a raise for 2019, it never has explicitly threatened to veto a spending bill providing for one. Whether the difference between 1.9 and 2.6 would change that is unknown.

The House measure also would reinstate the long-standing freeze on salary rates payable to political appointees. That freeze has expired but they have not received the catch-up raises of up to about $11,000 that they would be due, because OPM has kept the rates frozen pending a possible renewal of the freeze. Under its terms, while the amounts payable to them have been frozen, the Executive Schedule rates annually increase on paper for purposes of setting pay caps applying to career employees in high-level pay systems such as the SES.