As Shutdown Continues, Feds Await Pay Decision

President Trump has until the end of the year to set federal pay for 2019. President Trump has until the end of the year to set federal pay for 2019. Official White House Photo by Keegan Barber

With less than a week remaining before the end of 2018, federal employees still do not know how much they will be paid next year.

The White House has four days to issue an order establishing how much to compensate federal workers, or else massive automatic pay increases will take effect on Jan. 1. Military service members already have been authorized to receive a 2.6 percent pay raise next year.

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Since March, the Trump administration has pushed to freeze civilian federal workers’ pay in 2019, culminating with the formal announcement of a pay freeze plan in August. But just days later, the president sowed doubt as to whether he would ultimately move ahead with that proposal, suggesting he would “study” the issue.

“I’m going to be studying, you know, the federal workers in Washington that you’ve been reading so much about,” Trump said in September. “People don’t want to give them any increase. They haven’t had one in a long time. I said, 'I’m going to study that over the weekend.' It’s a good time to study it—Labor Day. Let’s see how they do next week. But a lot of people were against it.”

Some lawmakers sought to take the decision out of Trump’s hands, as the Senate approved a spending bill that would have provided civilian federal workers with a 1.9 percent across-the-board pay increase. But as talks to avoid a government shutdown broke down last week over the president’s insistence on $5 billion in border wall funding, so too did the effort to give feds a raise.

If lawmakers and Trump come to an agreement before the end of the year, Congress could include language in any spending deal to provide a raise for federal workers. But absent that, Trump must issue an executive order prescribing changes to both basic pay and locality pay for next year, even if that change is zero.

If the White House does not issue that order, automatic salary increases will take effect, as mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. Formulae established through that law stipulate much larger increases than any proposed by the White House or members of Congress.

Without an alternative pay order, federal employees would see a 25 percent increase in locality pay in 2019, in addition to a 2.1 percent across-the-board bump in their base pay.

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