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How Obama’s Federal Pay Plan Dashed a Bigger Raise


President Obama made it official just before the start of the Labor Day holiday: He plans to give civilian federal employees and service members a 1 percent pay boost in 2015, barring congressional intervention, of course. But what would the actual raise be if the president and Congress stayed silent?

Based on the latest available data, federal employees would receive a 1.3 percent pay raise under the formula in the law, while service members would be entitled to a 1.8 percent bump. If the president had not informed Congress of his alternative pay plan for feds by the end of August, then the increase mandated by the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act would have kicked in. Under FEPCA, the raise is determined by the change in the Employment Cost Index minus 0.5 percent for federal employees; for service members, it’s also based on the ECI but without the 0.5 percent reduction.

Presidents, however, largely have ignored the formula under FEPCA, preferring to offer their own figure, which under the law they can do. The commander-in-chief has the authority to set an alternate pay raise for military personnel and civilian employees, citing a national emergency or fiscal concerns, if Congress doesn’t pass legislation adjusting the amount or canceling it.

It looks like the 1 percent pay raise for feds is all but certain now. The military pay raise, however, is still in question. The House approved a 1.8 percent raise for service members in 2015, but the Senate legislation–which hasn’t come up for a floor vote yet–calls for a 1 percent boost.

The Military Officers Association of America has said it “strongly objects” to the president’s proposed 1 percent pay raise for service members. “We understand that the Pentagon is forced to confront sequestration, but a second year of military pay caps is not the answer to the nation’s budget troubles,” MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan said in a statement. “We are still at war. We are engaged in operations in Afghanistan, Syria, and again in Iraq,” he added. “This is an extremely poor message to send to our men and women in uniform who are sacrificing the most for the remaining 99 percent of Americans.”

To see a history of annual pay raises for federal civilian employees dating back to 1970, click here.

(Image via isak55/

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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