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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Pay Raise Pushback, Veterans Preference, Military Personnel Reform, and More

Defense Secretary Ash Carter talks to troops from the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad in July. Defense Secretary Ash Carter talks to troops from the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad in July. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Is anyone happy with President Obama’s 1.3 percent pay raise plan for federal employees in 2016? It’s doubtful. The plan, announced by the White House Aug. 28, includes a 1 percent across-the-board raise along with an alternative plan for locality pay rates that will bring the aggregate increases to 1.3 percent.

After several years of stagnant wages, the increase isn’t prompting widespread celebration. As the Washington Post noted, Obama’s action, taken because of Congress’ inaction, “prevents what would be a much higher raise from being paid under the complex laws governing federal pay raises should no raise number be enacted into law by the end of the year.”

Some feds are taking their complaints directly to the White House, petitioning for a “meaningful pay raise” on the administration’s We The People website:

The federal workforce has borne a disproportionate burden of austerity: furloughs, pay freezes, benefit erosion, and demoralizing rhetoric from Congress . . . Pres. Obama has pledged to support the middle class, of which feds are members, yet he continues to suggest raises that erode purchasing power. A meaningful raise would help lift workforce morale, retention, and recruitment. It would prove that Pres. Obama leads by example in supporting fair wages and the strengthening of the middle class. It would thank feds for keeping our country strong and our countrymen safe. The federal workforce has borne a disproportionate burden of austerity: furloughs, pay freezes, benefit erosion, and demoralizing rhetoric from Congress.

The petition needs 100,000 signatures by Sept. 30 to garner a White House response. As of Sept. 2, it had just under 1,000.

Not surprisingly, the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees expressed disappointment in the president’s proposal.  

AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said, “It’s hard for federal employees to get excited about the prospect of a 1.3 percent pay raise when their pay rose only 2 percent over the past five years, when they’re paying more for health insurance, more into a retirement system that’s fully funded, and like so many other working class Americans have seen their standard of living deteriorate as wages fail to keep pace with rising costs for groceries, medicine and other necessities."

“The federal workforce deserves a higher raise,” said Tony Reardon, NTEU national president. He noted that private sector wages rose 8.3 percent over the past five years, while federal salaries rose just 2 percent.

Over at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is reviewing a draft blueprint of sweeping changes to the military personnel system. Included are recommendations to scrap military pay tables and the up-or-out promotion system, encourage career “intermissions” to forge closer ties with industry and de-emphasize “joint” assignments. While Carter could implement some of the proposed changes, Congress would need to authorize others.

As Federal Times notes in a detailed report, the blueprint doesn’t involve any cost cutting. “Instead, it is threaded with targeted pay raises, added benefits and modernization efforts,” the paper said.

But not everyone is crazy about some of the proposals. According to Federal Times:  

A top concern among critics is the feasibility of adding programs that will cost billions of taxpayer dollars at a time when the department continues to face the unforgiving, if arbitrary, budget caps known as sequestration. And the effort to continue scaling back troops' pay and benefits remains official Defense Department policy.

Stay tuned for more on this issue.

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Office of Personnel Management is reminding HR offices across government of the resources available to federal employees during disasters. Tools range from telework to emergency critical hiring. And forgive us for this shameless plug for our own Katrina anniversary coverage—in Katrina 10: An Oral History, we asked 10 federal responders to tell their stories from the dark days of that historic storm. Their insight and experience should be widely shared.

And finally, this Washington Post story about veterans working in the federal government sheds some valuable light on the highly-charged issues surrounding hiring preferences and expanding opportunities for the men and women who have served in the military. The Post cites new data that show veterans don’t stay as long in government as non-veterans, despite efforts by the Obama administration to recruit them. According to the Post:

Veterans who’ve joined the government find it’s just too bureaucratic. They bristle at the resentment they feel from colleagues who know they went to the head of the hiring queue. They acknowledge that they don’t always fit in: Just below the surface, deep culture clashes in their offices simmer.   

As one veteran told the Post, “I left because advancement is 95 percent based on tenure vs. merit and there is very little individual responsibility verses the military.” 

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