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New Locality Pay Areas Finalized, a Pay Raise Decision Delayed and More

A weekly round-up of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management on Friday will publish a rule to the Federal Register officially adding four new places to the list of areas where federal employees are paid more generously to compete in more expensive labor markets.

Effective Jan. 5, the list of new locality pay areas will include Birmingham-Hoover-Talladega, Ala.; Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.; San Antonio-New Braunfels-Pearsall, Texas; and Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Va. The additions will effectively give around 62,000 federal workers a raise beginning with their first paychecks of 2019 (if federal pay is not frozen).

Additionally, the rule expands the Albuquerque-Santa Fe-Las Vegas, N.M., region to include McKinley County, N.M., a move that will impact around 1,600 General Schedule employees. And San Luis Obispo County, Calif., will be added to the Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif., region, adding about 100 federal workers.

Federal employees living in areas with their own locality pay rates typically receive greater pay bumps than those in the rest of the country, to reflect a higher cost of living. The additions were approved by the President’s Pay Agent last December, and OPM first issued proposed regulations to include the new regions in July.

The new locality pay areas will only matter if there is a pay raise for federal employees next year. On Monday, lawmakers announced that they had reached a deal on a two-week stopgap spending bill, pushing back a Dec. 7 deadline to reach agreement on how to fund the government until next September.

Congressional negotiators will now have until Dec. 21 to approve a spending package that includes appropriations for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice departments, among other agencies. That package would be the vehicle for a Senate-approved proposal to provide a 1.9 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees next year. If enacted, it would override President Trump’s plan to freeze federal worker pay in 2019.

The delay comes as negotiations over the bill stalled in the aftermath of the death of former President George H.W. Bush, whose funeral in Washington was held Wednesday.

House Republicans said in October that they would accept the Senate’s pay raise plan, although some Democrats have voiced qualms over how it is tied to ending a long-running pay freeze for the vice president and other Cabinet-level political appointees.

Last week, the conservative Heritage Foundation voiced its displeasure at the prospect for an across-the-board pay raise proposal. Policy analyst John York wrote that the plan “makes no sense,” and argued that Congress should move toward a compensation model based on job performance.

York suggested the Trump administration’s proposed $1 billion interagency fund to support performance-based-pay pilot programs would be a good place to start. But congressional appropriators in both chambers of Congress have balked at the idea, omitting it entirely from their spending bills, and observers have suggested implementing such a fund before overhauling agencies’ evaluation systems would be a misguided effort.

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