The pay boost, approved by a Senate subcommittee, marks the first pushback in Congress to President Trump’s plan to freeze federal civilian employee pay in 2019.
A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced spending legislation that would provide federal civilian employees with an across-the-board 1.9 percent pay increase in 2019, contrary to the White House’s request for a pay freeze.
The raise is in the Senate version of the fiscal 2019 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which was unanimously approved at the subcommittee level. The bill also includes spending increases for the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other agencies.
“I also appreciate that the bill includes a well-deserved pay adjustment for federal civilian workers,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.
In President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal, he indicated that he planned to institute a pay freeze for federal civilian employees next year. Tuesday’s vote marks the first formal congressional push back against that proposal.
The House Appropriations Committee, conversely, did not include any provisions on federal employee pay in its version of the general government spending bill, which effectively endorses the White House plan. Neither House nor Senate appropriators have acted to advance the Trump administration’s proposed $1 billion interagency workforce fund, pitched by officials at the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management as a way to fund pilot programs that institute pay for performance.
The proposal to raise civilian pay by 1.9 percent falls short of the White House’s pay recommendation for members of the military, which sits at 2.4 percent in 2019. Members of Congress traditionally have pushed for parity in compensation increases for the civilian and military workforces, although they were unsuccessful in enacting pay parity last year.
Some members of Congress also signed onto a bill earlier this year that would provide a 3 percent across-the-board raise for civilian federal employees.
Following the subcommittee hearing, federal employee groups all expressed support for the pay raise provision.
"This is welcome news for the men and women of the civil service who secure our nation, safeguard our economy and protect the public health," said Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "At a time when private sector salaries are increasing, and military personnel are on track for an earned pay increase, we applaud Congress for recognizing that government employees also deserve a pay raise."
National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association President Richard Thissen called the proposed pay increase "much deserved."
"Approval of this modest raise by the full Congress would prevent the president from implementing a pay freeze in 2019, an intention he has stated," Thissen said in a statement. "A pay freeze demonstrates disdain for public service and diminishes the value of the dedicated work that federal employees perform on behalf of the American people."
And American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said the move would help prevent the pay gap between the federal and private sectors from widening at a critical time.
"Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade," Cox said. "Most federal employees could earn far more working in the private sector, but they choose to be government employees because of their passion for public service and their commitment to making a difference nationally and globally."
The full Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to mark up and vote on the appropriations bill Thursday morning.
This post has been updated to include additional context and comments from federal employee groups.