Daily Labor Report®

Federal Workers’ 2019 Raise Hanging on Trump Executive Order

March 6, 2019, 11:15 AM

Federal workers still smarting from pay delays due to the government shutdown are now wondering when President Donald Trump will issue an executive order needed to provide the average 1.9 percent raise he signed into law.

“It’s either a political decision—a punitive measure against federal families—or sheer incompetence,” Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, an AFL-CIO affiliate, told Bloomberg Law. Federal employees and their unions were vocally opposed to the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended Jan. 25. The president may be getting back at them by dragging his heels on the executive order, Lenkart said.

Though the president has taken longer than usual to issue the executive order, the wait hasn’t been “inordinate” given that the Office of Personnel Management—the governnment’s chief HR office—needs to calculate pay tables for a raise that will vary from region to region, Jeff Neal, the Department of Homeland Security’s top HR official under President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg Law March 5. The raise is partly retroactive, to January, which means back pay for that portion of the increase also needs to be calculated, with additional complications such as overtime thrown in, said Neal, now a senior vice president at management consultant ICF.

“OPM didn’t know for sure what the pay raise was going to be until mid-February. We’re talking two-and-a-half weeks,” Neal said.

The White House, its Office of Management and Budget, and the OPM didn’t immediately respond March 5 to requests for comment from Bloomberg Law.

Delays ‘Unacceptable,’ Democrats Say

Trump signed a measure Feb. 15 to keep the federal government open through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2019. The bill also provided for a 1.9 percent pay increase for calendar year 2019, which is to be divided into a 1.4 percent across-the-board pay raise for all federal workers in the General Schedule pay system and a 0.5 percent average “locality” increase.

Nine House Democrats in a March 5 letter to the heads of the OMB and OPM said any delay in delivering the raise provided by the funding bill is “unacceptable.”

The lawmakers asked Russell Vought, the acting OMB director, and Margaret Weichert, the acting OPM director, to respond by March 15 with information on when federal workers can expect the raise.

It should take federal payroll providers about a week to process a raise after the executive order is issued, Lenkart said. This means, for example, that for employees to receive the increase beginning with their March 22 paychecks, the president would need to sign an executive order by March 15. If it doesn’t happen by then, the president would need to sign the executive order by March 29 for the raise to be included in federal workers’ April 5 paychecks, which also is possible, Lenkart said.

Range of Salary Increases

In calendar year 2018, federal employees in the Washington-Baltimore locality pay area got a 2.29 percent increase, the highest for federal workers in the U.S., while those in the “Rest of U.S.” pay area got a 1.67 percent raise. The average increase in 2018 was 1.9 percent, just as it will be this year. However, pay raises for federal workers may be slightly different this year because of how the government calculates locality pay under the complicated system put into place by the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, a 1990 law intended to close the gap between federal and private sector pay.

The exact pay increases for federal workers in the 53 locality pay areas—including Alaska, Hawaii, 50 designated locality pay areas including one for the greater Washington metropolitan area, and the Rest of U.S. pay area—will be revealed once Trump issues the order and the OPM updates its current pay tables.

Trump had sought a freeze on across-the-board pay increases in 2019. However, Republicans in Congress announced in October that they had agreed on a 1.9 percent average pay increase for federal employees. Although the House voted Jan. 30 to give federal workers a 2.6 percent pay increase retroactive to the beginning of January, the larger pay increase favored mostly by Democrats didn’t make it into the funding bill signed by the president.

The federal government has a total of about 2.1 million civilian employees, including roughly 1.2 million union-represented workers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Phil Kushin at pkushin@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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