What the Spending Bill Means for Federal Employees

The bill adopted the language of the 2013 Wage Grade Employee Parity Act, introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., in November. The bill adopted the language of the 2013 Wage Grade Employee Parity Act, introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., in November. Matt Rourke/AP

Wage-grade federal employees would receive the same 1 percent pay raise in 2014 as their white-collar salaried colleagues, thanks to a provision included in the fiscal 2014 appropriations deal announced Monday evening.

While the Obama administration ended a three-year pay freeze for most of the federal workforce just before Jan. 1, it did not have the authority to extend a raise to employees who receive hourly pay. The spending bill still must clear both chambers of Congress, but it has wide bipartisan support and the backing of the White House.

The American Federation of Government Employees praised Congress’ decision to extend the pay raise to all federal workers.

“With this language in place, more than 200,000 employees at our military bases, veterans’ hospitals, federal prisons and other worksites now will receive the modest pay raise being given to all other federal workers,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “Congress clearly recognizes the importance of ensuring pay parity for all federal employees, regardless of which pay system they fall into, and I am glad that this inequality was corrected.”

The bill adopted the language of the 2013 Wage Grade Employee Parity Act, introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., in November. Cartwright and federal employee groups, such as AFGE, have fought for the Wage Grade pay raise and called it a top priority for 2014.

Cartwright said in a statement that he was “thrilled” his bill was included in the omnibus agreement.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Democrats’ chief negotiator on the bill, said she fought for the federal workers who already have sacrificed significantly.

“I'm proud to fight on the front lines for federal employee pay as hard as federal employees fight on the front lines each and every day for America,” Mikulski said. “This long-overdue modest pay raise for federal government employees is a good step in recognizing the value of blue-collar federal workers. They have been the targets of unending attacks. They've been furloughed, laid off and locked out through no fault of their own. I believe federal employees should never be scapegoats in fights over deficit reduction.”

The omnibus bill also would repeal, in part, the cuts to military pensions for working-age retirees. While the “fix” would keep in place the less generous cost-of-living adjustments for most military retirees younger than 62 years old, it would restore full COLAs for disability retirements and survivor benefits.

“The legislation amends the [December budget agreement] to exempt medically retired personnel and survivor benefit plan recipients from having their cost-of-living benefits temporarily reduced,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., in a document explaining the omnibus bill. “This will ensure disabled veterans and surviving families receive the full benefits they are due.”

Since the budget deal was announced, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed outrage over the pension cuts and introduced a slew of measures to repeal them.

The appropriations bill also includes new and existing limitations on agency travel, conference and award spending. Bonuses at the Internal Revenue Service and General Services Administration would specifically be subject to “extensive new reporting” requirements.

The bill would codify an Obama initiative to require agencies to issue extensive reports to their inspectors general when they spend more than $100,000 on a conference. In addition, the measure would ban non-law enforcement agencies from sending more than 50 employees to any conference outside the United States and require light reports on any conference with a price tag of more than $20,000.

The appropriations package would prohibit federal employees from flying first, or any premium class, while on official business. It also would institute a pay freeze for most Executive Schedule employees, a pay designation given to the top officials at each agency, including the president’s Cabinet.

The House passed a short-term, three-day continuing resolution on Tuesday and the Senate is expected to do the same Tuesday evening, to avoid a government shutdown when the current stopgap spending bill expires after Jan. 15. That will give lawmakers through Saturday to debate and vote on the larger appropriations package. The House plans to vote on the omnibus on Wednesday, while the Senate will take a few more days to review the 1,582-page bill.

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