Government revoking pay raises, top career officials claim

Some senior executives believe their performance-based pay increases are being terminated because of the salary freeze.

This story has been updated

Top career officials are being asked to give up their pay raises in a move some suspect is part of President Obama's two-year governmentwide pay freeze.

"We've heard from members that it's happening," said Bill Bransford, general counsel at the Senior Executives Association. "We have not officially heard from anyone and don't know the specific facts."

Federal News Radio reported Friday morning that as of Sunday, the government is revoking the December 2010 performance-based pay raises of hundreds of senior executives. The story said the Energy Department had informed its senior executives of the move at the direction of the Office of Personnel Management. Other agencies are expected to do the same, the report added.

But an Energy official said the department was "still reviewing whether it will ask senior executives to give back money received as part of the pay increase." The official said OPM directed Energy on March 18 to take action to "roll back the pay adjustments."

A senior administration official said OPM made the request because the law generally prohibits more than one pay raise in any 12-month period for senior executives. The targeted executives' salaries increased in January 2010 and then again in December. "It was not a result of the pay freeze," the official said, referring to OPM's request, adding that there was no formal memo from OPM but rather "discussions and deliberations over the phone."

OPM did not respond to messages from Government Executive asking for comment.

"I don't know if I can remember anything happening like this ever before," Bransford said. "It seems unusual."

Using the same argument regarding the law on pay changes to senior executives' salaries, he questioned the legality of the move to take back the pay raises, in particular those given in December 2010, before the pay freeze officially took effect in January. Under Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, with a few exceptions, agencies can adjust (increase or decrease) a senior executive's basic pay only once during a 12-month period.

There are other restrictions on decreasing senior-level pay. Agencies can reduce a senior executive's rate of basic pay "by not more than 10 percent for performance or disciplinary reasons," subject to other restrictions included in the code. An agency can reduce the basic pay without a senior executive's consent only as a result of poor performance or misconduct, and must provide written notice of such a move at least 15 days before the reduction takes effect. Senior executives can choose to obtain a lawyer to dispute the matter, and request specific reasons for the pay reduction and reconsideration by the head of the agency. SESers cannot formally appeal the decision, however.

There are approximately 7,000 SES members across government who earn between $119,554 and $179,700 annually.

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