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Frozen Locality Pay, a Possible Pay Raise for Political Appointees and More

The appointee freeze has been lifted, but could be re-instituted in legislation set for a vote Thursday.

Although federal employees in several regions were slated to receive a pay increase to subsidize living in more expensive areas this year, that will have to wait. The pause comes as a result of President Trump’s executive order last week freezing the pay of civilian federal workers.

Last month, the Office of Personnel Management finalized a rule establishing a number of new locality pay areas starting with the first full pay period of 2019, which begins Jan. 5. Locality pay areas provide federal workers with an additional raise to compensate for living in regions with higher than average wages and usually a higher cost of living.

But being added to the list of locality pay areas does not automatically boost feds’ pay. Instead, it applies a percentage increase to employees’ pay on top of any annual base pay adjustment, provided that Congress or the president authorizes pay raises.

Although extra locality pay will not kick in for areas like Birmingham, Ala.; Burlington, Vt.; San Antonio, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va., immediately, all hope is not lost. Congress is working to override the president’s pay freeze, with the House set to vote on legislation Thursday that would reopen the government and provide federal workers with a 1.9 percent pay raise. The Senate had earlier agreed to the 1.9 percent figure, but it's unclear whether the chamber will send the latest House bill to Trump’s desk, for reasons unrelated to the pay raise.

The lapse in appropriations, coupled with the pay freeze means that although civilian federal employees will not receive a raise, at least for now, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay, a small fraction of the federal workforce will see a raise in their first paychecks of 2019.

OPM announced last week that the lack of appropriations legislation means that a long-running freeze on the pay of the vice president, Cabinet-level officials and roughly 1,000 political appointees across the federal government has expired. The salary of those positions had been locked at the same levels since 2013.

“Unless extended by new legislation, the pay freeze will end on the last day of the last pay period that begins in calendar year 2018 (i.e. January 5, 2019),” wrote acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert. OPM said it will issue additional guidance on how much salaries will increase if Congress does not pass legislation on the matter.

The freeze was a sticking point among congressional negotiators last year, as House Republicans insisted on pairing a pay raise for federal workers with the ending of a freeze on political appointees. But a Democratic House aide confirmed Wednesday that the chamber’s legislation to reopen the government will include a provision to reinstate the freeze at 2013 salary levels.