Fedweek

One key annual bill that has neared the finish line in Congress is the general government appropriations bill, which both the House and Senate have passed as part of packages although a conference between the two to resolve differences still is needed.

The Senate version of the bill would provide a 1.9 percent federal employee raise in January, with 1.4 percentage points of that paid across-the-board and the funds for the other 0.5 percentage point divided as locality pay. The House version meanwhile is silent regarding a raise, following a pattern of recent years of allowing the annual White House recommendation—in this case, for a freeze—to take effect by default.

With the House already in recess until early September, though, the next development likely will be a letter from Trump to Congress stating his intent for the raise should Congress not enact a figure—that is a formality required by federal pay law to prevent a much larger raise from taking effect by default.

The past practice of Presidents has been to reiterate their original proposal; the White House recently reiterated its opposition to a raise in a policy statement on the Senate version of the appropriations bill. However, final enactment of the bill, most likely as part of a package of several or even a government-wide measure, would override such a message.

The Senate language is structured to be more palatable to fiscal conservatives in Congress by not adding money to agency budgets to fund the raise, requiring them to absorb the cost out of their general operating accounts instead. Further, while the policy statement opposed paying a raise—once again advocating instead for a fund to reward good performers and pay incentives in high-demand occupations—it did not threaten to veto the bill over that issue.

Meanwhile, both versions of the bill would maintain the longstanding moratorium on starting “Circular A-76” competitions to compare federal jobs with private sector bids for possible contracting-out. Also, both the House and Senate blocked attempts by Democrats to add language preventing the administration from carrying out its recent executive order putting administrative law judges in the excepted service, a move that sponsors of those amendments say risks politicizing the ALJ cadre.