Dennis Lane / Getty Images

The Political Appointee Pay Freeze Continues, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday issued guidance confirming that a long-running freeze on the pay of senior political appointees across the federal government will continue at least until the end of this year.

For years, Congress has frozen the pay of political appointees at federal agencies making more than that of career feds in the Executive Schedule’s EX-IV salary, which this year is $176,300. That continued this year, although the repeated use of stopgap continuing resolutions to keep the government open while appropriators negotiated a full-year spending package for fiscal 2022 meant the freeze was extended through a series of short-term measures.

With Congress finally approving an omnibus spending bill last month, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja on Tuesday issued guidance formalizing the pay freeze on senior political leaders at federal agencies until Dec. 31.

The pay freeze covers political appointees whose positions’ salaries are fixed in statute at an Executive Schedule rate, chiefs of mission or ambassadors at large, any non-career member of the Senior Executive Service making at least $176,300, and any term-limited or emergency appointees or otherwise politically appointed employee making at least the official EX-IV salary.

Ahuja offered advice for determining whether the pay freeze should apply in some close cases.

“In determining whether a limited term or limited emergency SES appointment may be a political appointment, an employing agency should consider whether the position is political in character (e.g., established for an individual pending a presidential appointment subject to Senate confirmation, or for political transition purposes, or for other political purposes of the agency or administration),” she wrote. “All SES limited appointments cleared through the Office of Presidential Personnel are considered political appointments.”

The policy also continues to freeze the vice president’s salary at $235,100.

TSP Announces Recordkeeping Transition Period

Officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program last week announced the various deadlines and “blackout periods” related to the Thrift Savings Plan’s transition to a new recordkeeping service, which they said will enable a number of new features to improve participants’ experience managing their retirement accounts.

The new recordkeeper, known as the “Converge” project, promises new functionality in the form of a mobile app, e-signature capabilities as well as the ability of participants to invest a portion of their TSP savings in mutual funds.

May 24 will mark the final day that agencies and military service branches can submit payroll files to the TSP. Between May 25 and the first week of June, agency staff who handle TSP issues will be placed into “read only” mode, and any forms or changes submitted will not be processed until the end of the blackout period.

Also in the first week of June, the TSP will grant those agency employees access to a new portal for the transmission of TSP-related data.

For participants, the blackout period will run from May 16 until the first week of June, with key transactions, including investments, loan requests, withdrawals and distributions, among others, unavailable. All transactions and services, including account access on and through the ThriftLine call center, will be unavailable from May 26 through the first week of June.