Fedweek

Federal employees would receive a 1.9 percent raise in January under a spending bill approved by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee—an action at odds with the White House’s proposal for a freeze, which a House committee has effectively endorsed.

The Senate panel so far has released only a summary of its version of the annual general government appropriations bill, saying that a 1.9 percent raise would be “equal to the 2018 increase.” Federal employee organizations praised the move, even though they have been advocating a 3 percent increase.

Many steps lie ahead before a final decision on a raise is made, however. The next step on the Senate side will be a vote by the full Appropriations Committee, whose House counterpart last week approved its own version with no mention of a raise. That silence amounts to an endorsement of President Trump’s recommendation for a freeze, since if Congress takes no position by the end of the year, his position takes effect by default. Congress has followed that strategy in recent years to allow raises in the 1-2 percent range to take effect.

The Senate summary contains few details—they could come soon as the full committee prepares for a vote—although it does specify senior political appointees would have their salaries frozen despite the general federal employee raise.

In addition to its silence on a raise, the House measure contains no mention of creating a $1 billion performance and incentive fund, or of the administration’s proposal to add a year to within-grade raise waiting periods. Those would require specific actions by Congress to take effect.

During its voting, the House committee did add one provision of special interest to federal employees, to continue the long-running ban on beginning “Circular A-76” studies. Those studies, which compare costs of in-house employee operations versus contractor bids, have resulted in the contracting-out of many federal jobs over the years, although there has been a moratorium in place since late in the Bush administration due to concerns including loss of control over the work and cost overruns by the contractors.

The administration several times has raised the prospect of restarting such studies as part of what it calls a fresh look at how the government operates, but House action to continue the moratorium virtually assures that it will remain in place for another year. In most recent years, the House bill would have allowed those studies but the House later agreed to a Senate provision to keep the moratorium in effect.