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Details on the Locality Pay Increase, Controversial Petition for Christmas Eve Off, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

Federal employees returned from Thanksgiving to some big pay news. President Obama on Monday released the details of the first locality pay raise since 2010.

Together, the locality pay adjustments will raise the total federal payroll by 0.3 percent next year. That boost comes on top of a 1 percent increase in base pay in 2016.

Employees can click here to see the locality increase in their particular area.  A few things to note: The vast majority of existing localities will see their adjustments increase between 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points. California’s Bay Area, including San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, will see the largest increase next year, with the locality rate increasing 0.6 percentage points. Employees in other California cities including Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as those in New York City, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., will receive increases between 0.5 and 0.6 percentage points. The adjustment in the capital area will jump 0.56 percentage points to 24.78 percent of an employee’s base salary.

Feds should also be aware that about 108,000 employees who used to be in the general “rest of U.S.” category have now been grouped into a specific locality pay area, and will see a bigger increase than they would have otherwise. The 13 new locality pay areas are: Albany, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Colorado Springs, Co.; Davenport, Iowa; Harrisburg, Pa.; Kansas City, Mo.; Laredo, Texas; Las Vegas, Nev.; Palm Bay, Fla.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Tucson, Ariz.

Despite good tidings of a locality pay thaw, at least some federal employees have not forgotten leaner times. The pay freeze remains a bargaining chip in this year’s petition to President Obama for an extra paid day off around Christmas.

“Although we are a family at work, giving federal employees Christmas Eve off to spend with their families at home would not only be a wonderful gift from our president but would also boost morale in the workplace and within ourselves,” states a Nov. 21 plea posted on the White House’s We the People website. “We feel unappreciated with pay freezes and constant threats of government shutdowns. Being with our relatives is so important during this time and would mean everything.”

So far the request has just over 4,500 signatures. It will need to receive 100,000 by Dec. 21 in order to compel a response from Obama. A similar petition posted on Nov. 24 had just 1,988 signatures as of publication time.

Federal employees might not need to resort to We the People to get some extra time off. Obama gave federal employees a half day off on Christmas Eve in 2009, the most recent time Christmas fell on a Friday. Last year the president offered the whole day of Dec. 26 as an additional paid holiday, giving feds a four-day weekend, and the announcement even came in early December rather than at the last minute.

A number of Government Executive readers appeared happy to leave the decision to Obama and take annual leave if they didn’t get an extra day off. “It looks like feds are pandering [by] petitioning for Christmas Eve off,” said one commenter. “As others have stated THAT'S WHAT ANNUAL LEAVE IS FOR. Plan in advance.”

Another noted: “I think we have it pretty good as far as leave goes. Sure, I'd like to have an extra day, but I have annual leave for that, something a lot of others don't.”

Meanwhile, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked a watchdog to look into the State Department’s use of extra pay incentives for federal employees who might not have it quite as good by virtue of their location. State’s Office of Allowances offers additional pay to federal employees working in locations with harsh or dangerous living conditions such as those with civil insurrection, a lack of health care facilities or high crime.

According to leaders of the oversight panel, hardship allowances ranged from 5 percent to 35 percent of employees’ pay and were offered at 400 locations as of April; danger pay was offered at 65 posts. The pay rates and method for deciding which posts qualify changed as of September, the lawmakers said.

“These incentives cost the State Department millions of dollars annually; however, in 2009 the Government Accountability Office found the department had not systematically evaluated the effectiveness of its allowance programs, such as those used as incentives for hardship service,” committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “Furthermore, concerns have been raised that the formulas the department uses to calculate these allowances are based on outdated information.”

GAO’s review will assist in a committee investigation of the allowances, Chaffetz and Cummings said. 

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