In a surprise move, President Obama on Thursday evening increased next year’s average pay raise for civilian federal employees to 2.1 percent, up from the 1.6 percent he had proposed earlier in the year and reaffirmed in late November.
The raise goes into effect in January 2017, unless Congress takes action to stop it, which is unlikely at this stage.
In August, Obama used his authority under the law governing federal employee compensation to set next year’s raise at 1.6 percent — a 1 percent base increase, and a 0.6 percent locality pay bump.
Then, in November, Congress moved to set next year’s raise for uniformed military service members at 2.1 percent. Still, Obama reaffirmed the 1.6 percent civilian raise, detailing how the locality pay portion would be distributed across the country.
Then, prodded by organizations representing federal employees, members of Congress urged the White House to modify the plan so that the civilian raise matched the military increase. On Thursday, Obama did so.
“In light of the decision of Congress to provide a 2.1 percent pay increase for military personnel in 2017 and reconsideration of current and projected economic conditions, I have concluded it would be appropriate to revise my original alternative plan for locality payments so that the total combined cost of the 1.0 percent across-the-board base pay increase and varying locality payments will be 2.1 percent of basic payroll, “ Obama said in a message to Congress.
National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said that in recent days, the union “contacted key members of Congress to ask them to urge the president to change his original proposal to 2.1 percent. It was our view that the federal pay raise wasn’t a done deal and could be adjusted.”
Apparently, that was true. Obama was persuaded by arguments that federal workers have suffered financially in recent years. “Civilian federal employees made significant sacrifices as a result of the three-year pay freeze that ended in January 2014,” he said in his message to Congress. “Since the pay freeze ended, annual adjustments for civilian federal employees have also been lower than private sector pay increases” and raises that would have resulted if statutory formulas had been allowed to go into effect.
“Federal pay raises over the last several years have been seriously inadequate,” said Reardon. “This impacts morale and the government’s ability to attract and retain highly trained workers. While we still believe that the 2.1 percent average increase that will become effective in January should be much bigger, we believe parity with the military is an important recognition of how much our federal workforce contributes to our nation’s well-being.”