President Trump has issued a letter to Congress on federal pay in 2019, as expected again favoring a freeze on salaries in the face of a Senate bid to pay a 1.9 percent raise in January – which remains a possibility.
Under federal pay law, when Congress hasn’t made a decision on a raise for the upcoming year by the end of August, the White House may issue a letter stating its intent for a default raise if no action is taken by the end of the current year. The letter is essentially a defensive move against a much larger raise from taking effect by default—in this case, what Trump said would be a 25.7 percent average locality raise on top of a 2.1 percent across the board increase at a total cost of $25 billion.
The letter said those raises—at a total cost of $25 billion—would be “inappropriate” and that “federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.”
Trump first sought a freeze in his budget proposal early this year, along with creation of a $1 billion fund to be used to reward good performers, pay incentives in high-demand occupations and test different forms of compensation. The House in effect agreed to the freeze aspect by remaining silent on the issue in an appropriations bill, but the Senate version of the bill provides an average 1.9 percent increase, with variations by locality. Neither chamber of Congress has addressed the proposed fund nor a proposal that was paired with it, to add a year to the waiting periods for within-grade raises.
Said the letter, “Across-the-board pay increases and locality pay increases, in particular, have long-term fixed costs, yet fail to address existing pay disparities or target mission critical recruitment and retention goals.”
Any change in law regarding a raise that is enacted after a White House message would override that message.
In order for a raise to happen in 2019 the House would have to agree to the Senate’s adopted 1.9 percent raise in its version of a general appropriations bill, which the President would then need to sign.
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.
While Trump has signaled his opposition to such a raise there’s still a chance for a raise to take effect as part of the larger bill.