Federal Salary Council Recommends Locality Pay for Des Moines, Other Areas

Des Moines is getting its own locality pay area. Des Moines is getting its own locality pay area. By Scruggelgreen / Shutterstock.com

An advisory council of political appointees and federal employee stakeholders on Tuesday recommended that Des Moines, Iowa, be added to the list of regions where federal workers received increased pay and suggested widening two existing pay areas beginning in 2020.

The Federal Salary Council, which each year re-examines disparities between federal sector salaries and those in the private and state and local sectors, will send its recommendations to the President’s Pay Agent for final consideration by the end of this year. The pay agent, which consists of Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, will then either accept or reject the recommendations and issue instructions to the Office of Personnel Management for implementation.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which monitors pay disparities between federal employees and their private sector counterparts in 39 regions not yet approved to be locality pay areas each year, non-federal workers in Des Moines earned 10 percentage points more on average than feds over the last three years after the “Rest of U.S.” pay area is taken into account. The council unanimously supported adding Des Moines to the list of locality pay areas.

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Locality pay areas are established in regions where base pay for federal employees under the General Schedule is significantly lower than the salaries of workers in the private sector, and they are adjusted annually to bring the pay disparity down to 5 percent.

Additionally, the council unanimously voted to recommend adding Imperial County, Calif., to the Los Angeles locality pay area, despite the fact that it does not strictly meet the requirements for being added to an existing pay area.

Imperial County, which has a high population of employees of the U.S. Border Patrol, does not meet the requirement called the employment interchange rates, a measure of how many employees commute between a proposed area and the existing locality pay area. The county borders both Los Angeles and San Diego, and while the commute statistics are not enough on their own to justify adding them to either city’s locality pay area, when added together, they cross the 7.5 percent threshold.

“Based on an analysis by OPM staff, Imperial County is currently the only single-county location that both meets the applicable GS employment criterion and is adjacent to multiple basic locality pay areas with a combined employment interchange rate of 7.5 percent or more,” the council’s working group wrote in its recommendations Tuesday.

The council also voted 4-2 in favor of adding Pine County, Minn., to the Minneapolis-St. Paul locality pay area, in an instance where the reverse held true. Pine County is home to the Sandstone federal prison, and while the commuting rate is well above the threshold at about 34 percent, it falls short of the minimum 400 GS employees for a single county, in part because of difficulty recruiting employees.

But members denied a request to include Mono County, Calif., in Sacramento’s locality pay area for roughly 100 civilian employees that support the U.S. Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center. As a result of the remoteness of the base, the extensive commute of non-military employees and other factors that increase the cost of working there, officials said recruitment is extremely difficult, and turnover at the facility is between 15 and 25 percent per year.

Instead, the council proposed that the pay agent adopt a policy that allows it to consider, on a case by case basis, the inclusion of areas into existing locality pay areas that do not meet the minimum number of GS employees, provided that they meet the 7.5 percent commuting threshold and “when staffing data show a significant loss of GS employees to higher-paying locality pay areas or inability to recruit.”

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