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White House Pushes Performance-Based Pay Without Any Money to Implement It

The Trump administration dropped its proposal for a $1 billion interagency workforce fund, instead suggesting agencies offset a requested 2020 pay freeze with existing appropriations.

President Trump again argued for an end to across-the-board pay increases for federal workers in his fiscal 2020 budget proposal, advocating that the government move to a performance based pay model. But there’s just one problem: There’s no extra money to implement such a change.

Documents released Monday that provide greater detail about the provisions of the budget request outlined last week confirm the White House plans to freeze the pay of civilian federal workers next year. As officials argued last year, the administration said that in order to begin an effort to introduce performance based pay, agencies must forego across-the-board pay increases.

But unlike last year, when the administration advocated for a $1 billion interagency workforce fund to pay for pilot programs that would explore ways of implementing performance-based pay, there are no new appropriations proposed in Trump's 2020 budget to try to bridge that gap.

If the pay freeze is enacted for 2020, agencies would be expected to use existing funds designated for employee awards to recognize top performers. The Office of Management and Budget said it would offer additional guidance in the future on how agencies should implement such an initiative.

“Currently, agencies spend approximately 1 percent of their payroll on awards,” the budget stated. “However, awards funding is often spent in a non-strategic manner that both managers and employees report in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey does not adequately provide an incentive to perform or reward the best employee. OMB will issue guidance to ensure agencies use their awards funding to reward their most critical employees, with the best performance.”

It remains to be seen whether Congress would be amenable to such a change in policy. Although Trump issued an executive order last December finalizing the pay freeze for 2019, Congress overrode that, providing federal civilian employees with an average 1.9 percent pay increase retroactive to Jan. 1 when it approved a spending package to keep the government open until Sept. 30. Although that bill was signed by the president more than a month ago, federal workers are still waiting for the pay raise to be implemented.